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Somaliland Expatriates Return Home to Help Native Land Develop

Somaliland lies on the Gulf of Aden, a self-declared independent republic since breaking with Somalia 17 years ago. It has its own government, army, police and other institutions, but it is still not recognized by the international community. Despite this, the capital Hargeisa and other places are expanding rapidly. This is largely due to Somalilanders returning from the United States and other countries and bringing their skills and money with them. Cathy Majtenyi has more.

It is lunchtime at Hadhwanaag Hotel and Restaurant in Hargeisa and business is booming.

Managing director Hassan Ahmed Hussein makes sure that things are running smoothly.

Hussein lived in the United States for almost 20 years, working mostly as an accountant. He returned to his homeland in 2001. He proudly manages a resturant. He says, "It took me three months to clean the place. We even found a human skeleton from the civil war. There were times that I was really having a doubt if I could accomplish this."

On the other side of town, .

Ahmed was once a stock market trader and owned several businesses in the United States before returning to Hargeisa in 1999. "It is a virgin country. In America, everything you do, you become a franchisee rather than a franchisor," he said.

Ahmed and Hussein are part of a growing number of professionals who received their education and career development primarily in the United States, Canada, and Britain.

And they are returning Somaliland to set up a wide range of businesses.

"We are now working with the diaspora Somalilanders to really come to the country and help technically, because there is a hell of a knowledge gap in the country," said Ali Ibrahim, who is Somaliland's Minister of National Planning and Coordination.

Ibrahim says investment opportunities abound, particularly in the areas of real estate,telecommunications, transport, trading, the hospitality industry and, just on the horizon, gemstones and oil, "Indications are that this country has got a lot of mining potentialities and even petroleum. This is being further explored. If those are discovered, the whole life of the Somalilanders will change very soon."

Ibrahim says that direct investment by returning Somalilanders amounts to millions of dollars per year.

But the big income-earner is remittances -- as much as $450 million a year -- that Somaliland professionals in the diaspora send to their relatives and friends.

Ibrahim says remittances, plus direct investments, make up approximately half of Somaliland's economy.

Somalilanders who have come back to the area are trying to help the wider community as well as set up business ventures.

Media boss Ahmed says he plans to air programs that promote good governance, democracy, ethnic and clan tolerance, and a greater understanding of Islam, "I want to teach people that either bombing or blowing up or killing in the name of God is not the right way."

Restaurant owner Hussein says his big priority is to urge youth to use their time wisely and not to chew khat, a mildly narcotic plant, "The youth, when they are unemployed or underemployed, they are very volatile, and if they do not get the proper guidance, they can contribute to a lot of unwanted things and de-stabilize the country."

Many of the returning professionals say they want to influence Somaliland society and integrate the values and concepts they encountered in their second country.