Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud
A day after the U.S. officially recognized Somalia's government for the first time in two decades, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called on Somalis living in Minnesota to help rebuild their war-torn homeland.
Mohamud spoke to about 4,000 people late Friday night at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Although most of his speech was in Somali, he said in English that it was, "the beginning of a new foundation."
Omar Jamal, first secretary of the Somali Mission to the United Nations, said the president thanked the crowd in Somali and asked that they help rebuild the country with an emphasis on security, the economy and judicial system — either by returning to Somalia or from their homes in Minnesota. Minnesota is home to the largest Somali population in the U.S.
Jamal had travelled with Mohamud to Washington, D.C., where Secretary of State Hilary Clinton joined the Somali president on Thursday to announce the change in diplomatic relations. The U.S. recognition will help Somalia receive greater aid from the U.S. and international agencies.
After Friday's speech, Ilhan Omar said he walked away with the feeling that there was a plan in place to rebuild her homeland.
"I felt like it was the first time in 20 years that we can see a light at the end of the tunnel," said Omar, 30.
Amira Adawe, 34, added that she hopes the U.S. government's recognition of Somalia will open the door to widespread international support. The president's visit solidified her desire to return there and do what she can.
"It's my country," Adawe said. "I can't wait to go back home and help."
On Thursday, Clinton said times have changed in Somalia and cited the militant group al-Shabab's retreat from every major Somali city. The U.S. provided $780 million to African forces to help that effort.
Authorities say more than 20 young Somali men have left Minnesota since 2007 to join al-Shabab, a U.S.-designated terrorist group linked to al-Qaida. A Minneapolis man was convicted in October of helping funnel young men from Minnesota to Somalia to join the group.
Roda Rabi, who helped organize a protest of the president's visit that attracted about 50 people, said many Somalis are unhappy with Mohamud's tenure since he was elected in September. Rabi said that despite his promises, Mohamud has failed to follow the United Nations' plan for Somalia's reconciliation.
Saeed Fahia, executive director of the Confederation of the Somali Community in Minnesota, said it's too early to judge the new president. Too much has happened in the past two decades to be solved in a matter of months, he said.
"It would be difficult for any human being to take on Somalia's problems," he said ahead of the president's speech.
"After 23 years, Somalia is back in the world community," he added. "After all these years of fighting and drought ... we will be able to work toward rebuilding."