Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed began his US tour recently after arriving in the country for the UN General Assembly meeting last week. For the weekend Ahmed will be in Minneapolis, where he will speak with local Somalis and Somali-Americans and address students at the University of Minnesota. His tour has also included stops in Washington, DC and Columbus, OH.
Many analysts believe Ahmed hopes to attract support from the Somali diaspora:
The visit, the first ever to Minnesota by a Somali head of state, is seen as vital to both Ahmed’s attempts to unify and rebuild his country and to the local community’s desire to play a role in that.
“He has a lot to gain or lose with this trip,” said Abdisalam Adam, chairman of the board of directors of a Minneapolis mosque. “It is more than a courtesy visit. It is critical to his survival, I think.”
It is estimated that Minnesota is home to about 70,000 Somalis — most of whom live in the Twin Cities. The community is the largest concentration of Somalis in the United States.
Adam said many local Somalis maintain close ties with their homeland.
“Psychologically, many of them are connected to the country and feel the pain and loss to see how bad things have gone,” he said.
Ahmed I. Samatar, dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship at Macalester College in St. Paul, said the president and the displaced Somalis here need each other.
“Like refugees all over the world, they are obsessed with how bad their country has gone. … So they need him in that sense. He needs them in the sense that the diaspora represents a significant part of the small, educated elite among the Somalis.”
While the Star Tribune article quoted above does not spell out the nature of the support Somalia’s president desires from his brethren abroad, it seems to me there at least three appeals Ahmed will make, explicitly or implicitly: first, for Somalis in the United States to pressure political leaders here to support him and the Transitional Federal Government; second, for Somalis here to preserve – or expand – their economic ties to Somalia; and third, for Somali communities to prevent their young men from going to the Horn and participating in jihad, a phenomenon that could substantially affect US policy in the region and potentially diminish Washington’s support for the TFG if it is seen as ineffective in the face of terrorism.
Meanwhile, the civil war in Somalia continues, with al Shabab rebels apparently blocking a challenge to their authority. After several days’ tense stand-off in the port city of Kismayo between al Shabab and rival Islamists Hizbul Islam, al Shabab appears to have gained the upper hand after fighting broke out. Ahmed will thus return to a Somalia potentially even more fragmented, but at any rate no less violent, than the one he left.