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Expectations high for Somalis in Minnesota after U.S. re-establishes permanent diplomatic ties

December 7, 2018

Before reporting to the United States diplomatic mission to Somalia last month, new U.S. Ambassador Donald Yamamoto paid a visit to members of Minnesotas vast diaspora community.

Yamamotos dialogue here has since taken on new meaning for Somali-Americans in Minnesota home to the nations largest Somali community with news this week that the State Department is re-establishing a permanent diplomatic presence in the country for the first time in more than a quarter century.

The community feels like we have been heard and we have been listened to, said Jibril Afyare, president of the Somali-American Citizens League and who helped facilitate Yamamotos visit.

The U.S. described the historic move as a reflection of Somalias recent progress and an important step toward formalizing diplomatic engagement in Mogadishu, the countrys capital, which hasnt had a U.S. embassy since the central government collapsed under the weight of civil war in 1991.

Abdi Samatar, a University of Minnesota professor, credited an increased willingness among citizens to invest in improving Somalias infrastructure for paving the way for a diplomatic move he described as positive and symbolic. Whether it ultimately proves substantive, Samatar said, remains to be seen.

Unless there is a seriousness in Mogadishu on the Somali side this may come to naught in many ways, Samatar said.

Corruption still plagues the government, Samatar said. Transparency International, an international nongovernmental organization based in Germany, recently ranked Somalia last among all countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index, citing weak public institutions, internal conflict and deep instability.

Meanwhile, the al-Shabaab terror group continues to wreak havoc through regular attacks along Mogadishus principal thoroughfares. A truck bombing killed nearly 600 people last year in Somalias deadliest-ever terror attack. No group officially claimed responsibility for the bombing, but officials have suspected a link to al-Shabaab. Bringing that group under control and achieving a sense of stability will remain a top priority for Somalis abroad and for their relatives in Minnesota, Samatar said.

I just think the psychological boost for the community will be tremendous if Somalia comes back to be a normal country, Samatar said.

Expectations are already high in Minnesota following the State Departments Tuesday announcement, said Democratic state Rep.-elect Mohamud Noor.

The road map, I think, depends on the people who are governing Somalia but there is also a stake we can play in terms of ensuring that there is transparency and there is accountability, Noor said.

Noor was elected last month to represent a state House district that is home to the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, known for its large Somali population. Noor will replace U.S. Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar, who in January will become the first Somali-American sworn into Congress. Both Noor and Afyare said they looked forward to Omar giving the community a seat at the table at a time when diplomacy between the U.S. and Somalia appears ascendant.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in a statement that Minnesotas Somali community has contributed so much to the cultural and economic vitality of our state.

While significant challenges remain toward achieving security and stability in Somalia, the reestablishment of a permanent diplomatic presence will strengthen our relationship with the Government of Somalia, Klobuchar said.

Until recently, the U.S. ran its diplomatic mission out of neighboring Kenya. The U.S. has sought to re-establish its diplomatic presence in Somalia since 2015, two years after formally recognizing the countrys new federal government.

Afyare said that now that the U.S. has achieved that goal, Somalia has itself taken a step closer to becoming part of the international community.

Progress is something we are proud of, Ayfare said.

Stephen Montemayor 612-673-1755

Twitter: @smontemayor

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