2020: Somali Public Agenda’s Year in Review

2020 has been a challenging but productive year for Somali Public Agenda. Despite the disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic and other problems for Somalia this year, SPA was able to navigate through and managed to publish 16 papers in total, including reports, briefs, and commentaries. Our production was four publications higher than our 12 pieces in 2019. Of the 16 publications, 10 were commentaries, 4 were governance briefs, and 2 were research reports.

Elections and the Covid-19 pandemic were the focus of most of our publications. Although we did not include Covid-19 related analysis and studies in our initial yearly research plan, we re-adjusted our work with the outbreak of the devastating pandemic. We managed to produce three commentaries, one governance brief, and one research report on the Covid-19 pandemic. We analyzed Covid-19-related social stigma, its impact on the informal economy, its effect on higher education institutions, and how it was responded to by the different levels of government. These studies and analyses were all self-financed. Huge credit goes to the SPA team for their leading role in these publications especially at a time when they were working from home and doing most of the interviews over the phone.

Another theme SPA focused on in its publications in 2020 was the elections. Half of our publications (8 out of 16) were directly related to these. The election topics analyzed included: the First Past The Post electoral model, the approved National Electoral Law, the election regulations, a middle ground option, Dhusamareb’s ‘Electoral Constituency Caucuses’, the Hirshabelle election conundrum, lessons from the 2016 indirect elections, and protecting stability and inclusivity in Somalia’s indirect election process.

In August 2020, the foundations for operationalizing SPA’s design and training portfolios were laid when SPA launched the Center for Public Policy and Service Design and Center for Learning and Development. Launching these centers that will exclusively work on two important SPA portfolios (co-designing and training) was a great milestone. On its own, publishing evidence-based analysis with a range of policy considerations is not enough in Somalia. The Center for Public Policy and Service Design aims to help public institutions design human-centered public policies and services. International consultants who have little or no experience in Somalia – and paid by international organizations – are hired to lead the design of government policies. I hope the SPA Center for Public Policy and Service Design will fill this void and will help government institutions design policies and services that reflect the experiences and needs of the public.

The Center for Learning and Development, on the other hand, complements the policy design work. Good policies and projects are doomed to fail if there are no administrative cadres that can deliver them effectively. The center’s main mandate will be training public servants and equipping them with the skills necessary to implement public policies. Moreover, the center aims to train Somali researchers. In December, 13 female researchers were selected for training after online advertisement, and took part in a 6-days qualitative research course. SPA will increase its research training efforts in 2021.

In mid-2020, SPA has started 3-months Internship Programme. Two interns completed the internship and the third intern is currently working with SPA. The internship provides much-needed experience for fresh university graduates. The two who completed the internship programme wrote reflections (published in SPA website) about their internship experiences.

SPA’s podcasts have also increased in 2020. During the year, 11 podcasts were produced. SPA also developed three podcast programmes: namely, the SPA Governance Podcast, SPA Public Service Podcast, and SPA Forums Podcast. There have been over 1,500 downloads of the podcasts. Moreover, SPA established a library. Over 55 quality and contemporary Somali studies books are now available here. Some of these were brought from the UK and Kenya. The goal is to collect as many Somali studies books as possible, and we hope that by the end of 2021, the library will be full of quality publications and will be a valuable resource of literature for the SPA team and a reading space for SPA friends.

Our Public Agenda Forum organized three events in 2020. Two of these forums were platforms for launching SPA publications. The other forum – youth participation in politics – was attended by about 70 young people. The Public Agenda Forum also started the Gaxwo & Gorfeyn monthly meet-up. Three successful Gaxwo & Gorfeyn events were held in 2020. We expect that the Public Agenda Forum will be a space for intellectual debate and critical examination of issues of public priorities in 2020.

We have developed a collaborative relationship with several institutions in 2020. We are currently working with the Rift Valley Institute’s Somali Dialogue Platform on research and engagement related to contentious political issues in Somalia. We also established a working relationship with Interpeace, International Media Support (IMS), Radio Ergo, and some other international organizations. We became a member of the UKRI-funded research network on Datafication and Digital Rights in East Africa that brings together academic, civil society, and tech-sector partners in the region.

Our relationship with the media has become stronger. We were regularly interviewed by many international and local media outlets. We spoke to Al Jazeera, CGTN, VOA Somali, BBC Somali Service, and several local TV and radio stations including Goobjoog and Radio Himilo.

Moreover, we were invited to speak at forums and gave a briefing to policymakers. Our members were panelists at the Chatham House forum on Somalia elections, Rift Valley Forum, gave election briefing to the African Union leaders three times, and attended parliamentary hearings on the budget, Covid-19 impact on Somalia economy, and the audit bill. Our researchers also presented our publications on several online platforms to local and international audiences.

Our audience increased exponentially in 2020. Our work has been found through online search engines at 10,300 times; in 2019, our work was found online 3,469 times. Our mailing list subscribers are close to 1,000. Our Twitter handle (@somalipubagenda) has almost doubled it’s number of followers since 2019 and now has close to 4000 followers. Our Facebook page likes increased from 14,555 in 2019 to close to 18,000 likes in 2020. Our website views increased from 29,705 in 2019 to over 45,000 in 2020.

Our work in 2021 will focus  on peace, democratization, elections, and understanding contentious issues in Somalia. Studies on reconciliations in the Federal Member States, elections at local levels, and fiscal federalism among others will be the focus of our 2021 work.

It has been an honor for me to lead our talented, youthful, and competent SPA team. Despite the limited financial resources, the pandemic, security, and other challenges of 2020, SPA has been able to consistently produce quality papers and organize important discussions.

Finally, we are grateful for the unwavering support of our distinguished fellows and Board members. Special gratitude goes to Peter Chonka who spent many hours reading and editing our work. Many thanks are also owed to our supporters and readers whose confidence and encouragement inspire us to do more work for the common good. As we enter our fourth year, we are looking forward to producing quality research outputs, creating space for discussion on national issues, offer training, and help public institutions design human-centered public services.

Mahad Wasuge is the Executive Director of Somali Public Agenda.

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