New Somali president plans US tour to bring news from homeland to diaspora
By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS , Associated Press
Last update: September 9, 2009 – 5:03 PM
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The newly elected president of Somalia plans a tour of U.S. communities with large Somali populations this fall in hopes of spreading the word about his country’s problems and getting advice for solving some of them.
Elmi Duale, Somalia’s United Nations ambassador and permanent representative, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed wants to visit communities in Minneapolis, Columbus and suburban Washington, D.C.
Ahmed plans the tour after attending the United Nations General Assembly at the end of September, Duale said. He had no details on dates.
Thousands of Somalis have come to the United States in the two decades since civil war began tearing their country apart in the early 1990s. The country has not had a functioning central government since about 1991.
Ahmed sees the visit as a “two-way channel,” Duale said, a chance to tell Somalis in the United States about the situation at home and a way of reminding them they can help.
“It’s a way of showing the Somalis in diaspora the homeland considers them still part and parcel of the community, and they have responsibilities to help and assist,” he said.
Ahmed’s visit comes as a federal investigation continues into the return to Somalia of several young Somalis from the Minneapolis area, apparently to join a terrorist jihad back home.
At least three have died, including one who authorities believe is the first American suicide bomber. Three others have pleaded guilty in the U.S. to terrorism-related charges.
Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali activist in Minneapolis, said he hopes Ahmed will talk about efforts by the al-Shabab terrorist group to recruit youths.
“To hear him … publicly denounce this group and its supporters will be very important in educating us about the recruitment,” said Bihi, uncle to a Minneapolis man killed in Somalia.
Bihi estimates Somalis in Minneapolis send home $1 billion annually.
Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, was elected president in January and hopes to unite the country’s feuding factions, but violence has continued.
The U.N. said last month that Somalia is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in 18 years, with more than half the population needing humanitarian aid amid an escalating crisis.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Ahmed in early August at the U.S. embassy in Kenya during a seven-nation African tour. After the meeting, she pledged to expand American support for Somalia’s weak interim government and threatened sanctions against neighboring Eritrea for aiding an extremist group she said was trying to launch worldwide terrorist attacks from Somalia.
Ahmed’s visit could help shore up his support at home if he meets with as many Somalis as possible from several tribes, said Mahdi Taakilo, publisher of a Somali newspaper in Columbus.
Somalis left with a favorable impression of Ahmed here will quickly tell their relatives back home about the president and urge their support, Taakilo said.
Duale said that he didn’t know what Ahmed might talk about but that anyone is free to ask the president questions.
“If they ask him, he will answer,” Duale said.
Census data show as many as 100,000 people of Somali ancestry living in the United States in 2007, with the majority, up to 35,000, in and around Minneapolis.
The census figures show as many as 5,000 in and around Washington and as many as 7,000 in Columbus. Local Somali leaders in Columbus estimate far higher numbers.
On the Net:
Somalia UN mission: http://www2.un.int/public/Somalia/
Associated Press writer Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report