Somali diaspora drawn back to Mogadishu

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 US, Mahdi returned to Mogadishu to help renovate a 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.”

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 sceptical 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 colour, sits in the foreground.

Affey says the painting, titled Empty Suit, 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 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.”