Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s Trip to Minneapolis

I had a trip to make last week and another coming up this week, so I’m falling behind somewhat on blogging. But important things have been going on. In particular I’m frustrated that various commitments are preventing me from writing more about Mali. Public commentary on that country’s crisis has begun to really upset me, especially commentary that seems to celebrate violence.

Anyways. Today I have a quick point to make about Somalia, whose (relatively) new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud visited the United States last week. On January 17 Hassan Sheikh met with President Barack Obama and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, and (separately) with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. After the latter meeting, Clinton announced that the US government had official recognized the government of Somalia, the first time Washington has done so for any government in Mogadishu since 1991. Hassan Sheikh also spoke at a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies – you can watch the video here.

The US recognition of Somalia’s government was, in one sense, the big news of the trip. But what struck me most was that on January 18, President Hassan Sheikh traveled to Minnesota, where he addressed the Somali diaspora community there (Minneapolis is home to the largest Somali community in the US).

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called on Somalis living in Minnesota to help rebuild their war-torn homeland.

Mohamud spoke to about 4,000 people late Friday night at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Although most of his speech was in Somali, he said in English that it was, “the beginning of a new foundation.”

Semhar Araia attended the event and collected her reactions and photographs here; I highly recommend reading/viewing them.

The trip struck me not because it is surprising but because it is unsurprising. Two data points don’t necessarily make a pattern, but let’s recall that the previous president of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, toured Somali diaspora communities in the US in 2009, visiting Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio, home to another sizable Somali community. Sheikh Sharif was the first Somali president to make such a trip, and it is noteworthy that Hassan Sheikh is building on this precedent. One reason, of course, is that the Somali diaspora is a critical source of money and minds for Somalia. The relationship between diaspora and homeland is also, it should be stressed, far from simple.

I am aware, in the abstract, that large-scale diasporas are reshaping our world and transforming notions of community and nation. But this emerging tradition of Somali presidents making official visits to Minneapolis makes that trend particularly vivid. In a legal sense, no part of Minnesota is part of Somalia. But in an existential sense, an important part of Hassan Sheikh’s country is in Minnesota. I would be very surprised if this is the last trip a sitting Somali president makes there.

6 thoughts on “Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s Trip to Minneapolis

  1. The overwhelming Somali political elite are from the diaspora. Most Somali MP’s, PM’s and Presidents since 2000 ( including the regional ones) at one time or the other touched base with their various diaspora. That same Minneapolis convention centre was the scene of similar such shows. It is all on record.

    As any keen observer of the Somali political elite scene will tell you, it is no surprise of such events. It certainly will not be the last. The diaspora are genuinely tired of the unrest of their homeland and ache to see the end of it once and for all. However, they were disappointed by their powers that be multiple times.

    Our legitimately-selected new President certainly talks the talk and he seems to enjoy a lot of sympathy, including this writer. Nevertheless, one must hedge his bets before pronouncing that he is different from his predecessors. Wooing the convention halls of the diaspora is one thing. It never produced any results from the past. What is more important is winning the hearts and minds of his own people in Mogadishu, Hargeisa, Garoowe, Beletweyn, Baidoa, Galkayo, Kismayo and in between. The day the Somali political elites are seen touching base with their people over there is the day we shall declare our final verdict.

    To help our new and certainly charming new President achieve that accolade, the following tasks MUST be accomplished if he has to walk the walk:

    1. Encouraging local, regional, and federal collaboration on good governance.
    2. Reestablishment of an effective and inclusive National Army and Police whose cadres are recruited from ALL regions, trained inside the country, accountable only to an
    inclusive professional Somali officer corps.
    3. Respecting the principle of the Federal Constitution with regard to regional boundaries and resources.
    4. Sharing international aid and support, whether humanitarian, developmental or security
    equitably between the existing regional administrations and the Federal Government.
    5. Including Puntland and the other affected key stakeholders from the eastern and western peripheries of the north in any consultation between Somaliland and the Federal Government of Somalia, if the intention of these meetings is to achieve a lasting peace in that area.
    6. Developing a national strategy for the repatriation of our refugees (IDP/EDP) who have been living in inhumane conditions for more than 20 years. This is an urgent matter.
    7. Resolving land and property issues. In reality, today millions of Somalis can’t go back to their homeland due to illegal occupation of their land, their homes, and other properties. The success of repatriation and true re-conciliation therefore depends on how quickly this issue is resolved.

  2. Speaking with a teacher who works with Somali children (and who had to create lesson plans out of nothing because no one had any idea what to do) the Somali-Americans seem to have fond memories of old Somalia, but they don’t necessarily want to move back there.

    • Move back to where?

      Move back to the good old days of weak, corrupt, civilian unitarian governments of the 60’s with strong one-city Capital city? No way.

      Move back to the strong military totalitarian regime of the 80’s? No way.

      Move back to the total anarchy of the 90’s? No way.

      The new Somalia and its leaders must evolve with the changing times. A lot has happened between 1960-2012. Wither the lessons Learned?

      To evolve with the times, we must first and for most render the following Meles Zenawi quote null and void:

      ‘An oversupply of national sentiment is not the problem in Somalia. The problem in Somalia is a lack of it. The problem in Somalia is oversupply of sub-clannish attitude.”

      Meles Zenawi interview with Newsweek on April 9, 2008

  3. More news from the Horn of Africa. There might have been a coup attempt in Eritrea over the issue of pay. It’ll be fascinating to see who is charged (or who Eritrea admits was involved) and what rank they were. We might be seeing a major shift to subaltern coups.

  4. Pingback: US Welcomes Somalia’s New President | Humanosphere

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