News / Africa

Somali Diaspora Drawn Back to Mogadishu

The Somali artist Affey with his painting 'Empty Suit' representing diaspora politicians, Mogadishu, Somalia. (Gabe Joselow/VOA)The Somali artist Affey with his painting 'Empty Suit' representing diaspora politicians, Mogadishu, Somalia. (Gabe Joselow/VOA)
x
The Somali artist Affey with his painting 'Empty Suit' representing diaspora politicians, Mogadishu, Somalia. (Gabe Joselow/VOA)
The Somali artist Affey with his painting 'Empty Suit' representing diaspora politicians, Mogadishu, Somalia. (Gabe Joselow/VOA)
Gabe Joselow
As the Somali capital Mogadishu emerges from years of war, it has become a magnet for investors from the diaspora.
 
With funding from abroad, new businesses are opening up across the city.
 
Liban Mahdi is among those who sensed opportunity and made the long trip back.
 
After more than 25 years in Canada and the United States, he returned to Mogadishu to help renovate the downtown Makkah hotel.
 
“During the war it got destroyed,” he said.  “My cousins and I and my uncle got back together and we decided to put back the business.”
 
Inside The Mug Coffee Lounge in Mogadishu's Makkah hotel. (Gabe Joselow/VOA)Inside The Mug Coffee Lounge in Mogadishu's Makkah hotel. (Gabe Joselow/VOA)
x
Inside The Mug Coffee Lounge in Mogadishu's Makkah hotel. (Gabe Joselow/VOA)
Inside The Mug Coffee Lounge in Mogadishu's Makkah hotel. (Gabe Joselow/VOA)
In March he also opened the Mug Coffee Lounge, a Kenyan franchise, on the ground floor.  The café, with its gleaming décor and refrigerated cakes, has become a prime meeting place for the diaspora.
 
“This is their little Starbucks,” Mahdi says.
 
While Mahdi and his family have made the most of the opportunities in Mogadishu, he acknowledges that some of the city’s residents who survived years of war are skeptical of newcomers from the diaspora.
 
“The local people see that they suffered through this and they have a sense of entitlement for jobs,” Mahdi says.
 
“But sometimes the people with the better tools are the people who come from the diaspora, so at the end of the day who is better for the country is the guy with the better tools to fix the situation.”
 
Empty Suit
 
In another part of town, Somali artist Adan Farah, who goes by the nickname “Affey,” displays his work at a gallery in the Center for Research and Dialogue.
 
One piece depicts a business suit, without a body, hanging limply over an armchair.  The Somali flag is in the background, painted in black and white, while a British passport, painted in color, sits in the foreground.
 
The painting is called “Empty Suit.”  Affey says it represents politicians from the diaspora, and their priorities for the country.
 
“The first politicians that came to the country,” he says, “the ones who got into politics, not business, were those that experienced hard times abroad and came here wanting to make quick money.”
 
Affey has lived in Mogadishu his entire life.  He took his painting underground during more than 20 years of conflict.
 
Now that the city is experiencing a relative period of peace, since the removal of the al-Shabab militants in 2011, he finally has the chance to express himself more openly and has been observing the return of the Somali diaspora seeking opportunity in Mogadishu.
 
He says despite some negative elements, returning Somalis have also done some good.
 
“Apart from the money they bring in,” he says, “they have brought creativity from different parts of the world, they will change many things in this country.  So many different businesses are being created.”
 
A Parliament of Two Minds
 
Returning Somalis also are making their mark in politics.
 
Diaspora politicians make up the majority of the federal parliament, which was established last year at the end of a long political transition.  The country’s provisional constitution requires members to have advanced education, giving an edge to those who went abroad for schooling.
 
Hussein Arab Isse represents a constituency in Somaliland.  He spent most of his life in California, but came back in 2011.
 
“We bring what we can add to the local culture here, whether it’s politics or anything else, social services, human rights, all that,” he says.
 
“There’s many issues, when you live abroad it kind of opens your mind up and you pick them up and anything bad you leave behind.  All the good stuff you bring back home.”
 
Another Somaliland MP who spent time in the U.S., Abdullahi Haji, says he considers himself part diaspora and part local.
 
He first came back to Somalia in the mid-1990s and worked on the political transition process before joining the parliament last year.
 
He says local politicians have the advantage of knowing Somalia’s history, and the ins-and-outs of the overarching clan system, which guides decision-making on the local level.
 
“The diaspora politician who recently came here, is in fact inclined to approach the whole thing from the perspectives of formality and governance,” he says.  “But they don’t really understand the clan factor in politics.”
 
He says it is easy for diaspora members to become discouraged as the government struggles to build the country’s shattered institutions and to reconcile regional disputes.
 
“When you come from United States,” he says, “you believe that you can make a change.  As a matter of fact, it may be very difficult for you to do that, but still you can see that every day actually you can contribute."
 
Culture Clash

 
After years of Islamist rule in Somalia, those who lived abroad find it a different country from the one they left.
 
The culture clash with “westernized” Somalis remains a source of tension
 
Khadija Ali has just returned to Somalia from Toronto, Canada after 27 years away.
 
“People are more religious now, people are more conservative than it was before,” she says. “And I can understand, in my culture as a religion, when we encounter difficulties, we go to God.”
 
Despite the culture shock, Ali, who worked as a doctor in Toronto, hopes to get involved in improving health services in Mogadishu.
 
Like many in the capital, sensing new opportunities, she has big plans to help rebuild a city and a country still fragile from years of conflict.
 
While many diaspora see Mogadishu as a blank canvas for business and innovation, local Somalis have a different experience of the city, shaped by years of war.
 
Jamal Abdirahman a youth activist in the capital, and lifelong resident, remembers the dark times.
 
“Many people died without reason,” he says.  “Some people lost their loved ones, some people lost their hope and some people fled from their country to become refugees.”
 
Security remains a challenge in the city.  Al-Shabab continues to launch one-off suicide bomb attacks on government targets, international institutions and diaspora-owned restaurants and hotels.
 
Still, Abdirahman is optimistic.  He sees the influx of investment as a chance for all Somalis.  “We see hope in the near future," he says.

You May Like

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Russia’s Prosecutor General to Review Legality of Baltics Independence

Move, announced Tuesday, has alarmed Baltic States and strained even further their increasingly tense ties with Moscow More

US Urged to Keep Up Pressure on Cuba Rights

Communist government continues to hold dozens of political prisoners, tightly restricts freedom of expression, uses threats, intimidation to discourage critics, according to activist groups More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs