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

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Nielsen's, Sina Weibo Team Up for Closer Look at Chinese Social Media

    US-based rating agency reaches deal with China's Twitter-like service to gauge marketing effectiveness on platform which has more than 200 million users

    Despite Cease-fire, Myanmar Landmine Scourge Goes Unaddressed

    Myanmar has third-highest mine casualty rate in the world, according to Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, which says between 1999 to 2014 it recorded 3,745 casualties, 396 of whom died

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora