Like many Somalis displaced by decades of civil war, Mohamoud Elmi felt he had a duty to use what he learned in America to help rebuild his homeland. After getting a business administration degree in Ohio, he fulfilled that calling and returned to Somalia in 2008 to work in government.
Elmi, a dual Somali-U.S. citizen, was among at least 358 people killed in the Oct. 14 truck bombing in Mogadishu. He was one of countless members of the Somali diaspora who have returned to the Horn of Africa country in recent years to work as contractors, entrepreneurs, humanitarian workers, government leaders and more, despite the threat of violence.
Many say they won’t be deterred by the recent bombing, which was the deadliest attack in Somalia’s history and one of the world’s worst attacks in years. Some say the bombing, which also left 228 people injured and dozens missing, will actually energize rebuilding efforts.
“We don’t want this country to go down the tubes,” said Jibril Afyare, a Minnesota software engineer who is visiting Mogadishu. He went on to add: “I’m an American citizen, but this is my homeland and I won’t let my fellow Somali citizens suffer like this.”
Afyare was among a group of diaspora members invited to Somalia by the government to assist in the country’s progress. He was on his way to meet three relatives when he heard the blast from a couple of blocks away. His relatives died, as did friend and fellow Minnesota resident Ahmed Eyow, who had arrived in Mogadishu just hours earlier.
Afyare stayed in Somalia to help the hurt and needy. He spoke to The Associated Press last week by phone while volunteering at a hospital where many of the injured were being treated.
“Somali-Americans, or Somalis everywhere, should … contribute their skill sets to help this country come out of the ashes,” Afyare said.
Somalia began to fall apart in 1991, with warlords ousting dictator Siad Barre before turning on each other. Years of conflict and attacks by the extremist group al-Shabab, along with famine, shattered the country of some 12 million people. Somalia now has its first fully functioning government in 26 years, including a new generation of leaders who hail from the diaspora of about 2 million people.
Among those who have returned to their country to help is President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a dual Somali-U.S. citizen from New York.
Roughly one-third of Somalia’s Parliament — 105 of 329 members — are dual citizens from the diaspora, said Sadik Warfa, who is a Somali-American from Minnesota and was elected to Parliament last year. Twenty-nine are from the United Kingdom, and 22 are from the United States. Countless others have returned to Somalia to work in the private sector or advise the new government.
“This country must rise up as a whole nation,” said Warfa, who is now in Somalia. “And who can do better at that than its own people. People need to wake up and realize it’s now or never.”
Warfa said for too long Somalia has been known for terrorism, piracy, tribal clashes and lawlessness. He believes the Oct. 14 attack was a turning point and will reaffirm the commitment to create a better country.
“Somalia has been sliding a long time, and I think we realized this is the generation that can turn the page and start a new page for Somalia,” he said.
Some Somali-Americans in Minnesota have assisted in other ways, by helping out businesses, putting their efforts toward more humanitarian causes or working as consultants.
Saciido Shaie, a community advocate in Minnesota, traveled to Somalia last spring to document the horrors of a drought that’s displaced hundreds of thousands of people. After her trip, she collaborated with groups to get food and medical supplies to those in need. Hashi Shafi, also in Minnesota, is working on an ongoing effort to connect Somali-American investors to businesses in Somalia.
“We want to make sure we are part of the solution, we are not part of the problem,” Shafi said.
Mohamud Sheikh Farah, also a dual Somali-U.S. citizen from Minnesota and a member of Parliament, said it’s important that educated people who fled during the civil war return to help.
“It’s not easy. But we are going in the right direction,” he said by phone from Mogadishu. “We have the confidence that if we work hard and … try to bring all our best people on board, we can bring a lot of great change.”
Elmi was serving as director general of Somalia’s Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management when he was killed in the attack. His brother, Sade Elmi, said Mohamoud had just left the office and was in traffic when the explosion happened.
“He always believed that you get educated here, you have to go back and help,” Sade Elmi said of his brother. “He was a humanitarian guy and he really loved what he was doing.”