Somali-Minnesotans travel to Norway for peace-building discussions

A Minnesota-based Somali group is heading to Oslo, Norway on Wednesday, March 21, for a week of meetings with peace-building experts to discuss how to organize exploding numbers of Somali immigrants worldwide who are seeking to help rebuild Somalia after 20 years of civil war.

The Eagan-based non-profit group, the Somali Institute for Peace Research (SIPR), sponsors Somalia reconstruction conferences, runs a popular Facebook site and regularly consults with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, offering ideas and plans for rebuilding Somali society. 

Minnesota is home to the world’s largest diaspora community of Somali immigrants, some of whom in recent years have left stable lives and careers in the United States to take up key positions in Somalia’s civil society and in the Transitional Federal Government.

In the past few months, several changes in Somalia, especially the military defeat of the extremist group Shabab in key areas, has infused fresh hope that Somalia may have the chance to reverse its fortunes. That prospect has encouraged many in the Somali diaspora, which numbers more than a million refugees worldwide, to consider returning to Somalia to help with reconstruction or in some other way to offer their skills and aid.

 “There are so many efforts to help Somalia now, but they’re not organized and not efficient,” said Sakawdin Mohamed, executive director of SIPR and of three of its members traveling to Norway.  “The goal of our Norway trip is to learn how to unite all of these efforts so that the skills and resources in the Somali diaspora are harnessed in the most effective way.”

“A new window of opportunity for peace and stability has opened,” the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, said last month at a meeting in London of the world’s top diplomats, who gathered to discuss supporting Somalia consolidate it recent gains into a lasting peace.

The other two SIPR members visiting Norway from Minnesota are Sheiknor Qassim, one of the group’s founders and a resident of Rochester, MN and Daniel Brevick, a web site developer at Mayo Clinic, also of Rochester.

 

Timeline for change

(from "Somalia has best chance in decades to end conflict, Security Council told," UN News Centre, 3/5/2012)

The country’s Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) are in the process of implementing a roadmap devised in September last year that spells out priority measures to be carried out before the current transitional governing arrangements end on 20 August.

Before then, the Horn of Africa nation needs a new constitution, a smaller and more representative Parliament and elections for the positions of President, Speaker and Deputies.

“Ending the transition on time will require more efforts and support from all international actors in the coming months,” Augustine P. Mahiga, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, told the Council via video-link from the country. “We must ensure that all of us are pulling together in this regard.”

He pointed out that the drafting of the constitution has to be completed by the end of this month. The selection process to the 1,000-member Constituent Assembly from over eight community-based constituencies, including women, must be completed in eight weeks for the provisional adoption of the constitution by the end of April.

Drawing on the skills and resources of the Somali diaspora, the SIPR has offered Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government a detailed multi-year blueprint for national reconstruction, and a more detailed plan to establish a national emergency aid agency for Somalia based on the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency model.

In Norway, the Minnesotans will meet with former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, who since 2006 has worked extensively on Somalia aid through a post with the United Nations; with members of the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights (which has an active branch on Somali issues in Bloomington, MN); and with the Nansen Academy, which runs programs to foster dialogue and reconciliation in postwar scenarios.

The Minnesota group will also meet with leaders of Norway’s Somali community, who are among the most politically and socially active in Europe. 

In two decades of civil war, Somalia has suffered one after another loss from fighting among regional warlords, drought, famine, invasions from neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, and in recent years an effective takeover of the southern portion of the country by the Shabab, whose cruel imposition of Islamic law has alienated most Somali citizens.

Foreign Policy magazine rates Somalia as the world’s worst failed states, and the near total breakdown of government agencies and services since 1991 has made it among the most corrupt nations as well.

Many Somali refugees, either from their previous lives in Somalia or after two decades as immigrants, are highly-educated professionals whose skills across a wide variety of fields — e.g., government, law, agriculture, medicine, engineering —would be indispensable in rebuilding Somalia.

After living outside of Somalia for so long, many of these immigrants lack the local personal and political connections in Somalia, and knowledge of present conditions in the country, to be able to quickly offer help.

Whether they return to Somalia or not, the Minnesota group hopes to devise practical methods for Somali immigrants to channel their skills and resources to help rebuild a country devastated by civil war.

“In Norway we want to connect with partners and learn how to empower the Somali diaspora,” said Sheiknor Qassim of Rochester. “These people have the skills Somalia needs, and they need the chance to offer their assistance. Because if they don’t, we will see the warlords come back.”

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Douglas McGill

Douglas McGill has reported for the New York Times and Bloomberg News--and now the Daily Planet. To reach Doug McGill: doug [at] mcgillreport [dot] org. And visit The McGill Report at www.mcgillreport.org.