Somali diaspora drawn back to Mogadishu

A parliament of two minds

Returning Somalis are also 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’re 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 US, Abdullahi Haji Hassan Mohamed Nuur, 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 the US,” 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 “westernised” 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. -VOA