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By M. M. Afrah©2006
Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA)

The Americans in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) have good reason to like the Somali refugees.

More than 15 years since they choose to settle in the "State of 10.000 Lakes" as refugees-turned entrepreneurs, and no longer as unwanted guests, cast aside by the mainstream Americans, but rather hard working business people that is but robust entrepreneurs that is slowly but surely earning respect from their hosts.

"I think the Somalis are gradually winning the American respect," said a man during my first visit to this great city, and a man who regularly visits the thriving colourful Somali malls in Minneapolis. And perhaps gradually winning over residents who initially shrugged them off as noisy bazaar owners, who they say, do not even understand a single English word.

Stall owners long sold their merchandise only to their countrymen and women, but recently they began to sell goods to old residents of the city, who found the colorfully displayed goods exotic and unavailable in mainstream American malls and supermarkets.

A first non-Somali visitor is pleased that he has more choice in selecting goods at bargain price. "I don't feel like being pushed into anything," he said.

"They didn't need to speak English and we didn't need to speak Somali. They usually guess what kind of goods we were looking for," another frequent visitor said.

And yet, the drive to contribute the economy too often is overlooked and undervalued by the main media or County and State officials. For Somalis, the sense of community is not just a cultural nicety, but a potent part to live and succeed against all odds. In fact, when asked to account for their success after arriving in America penniless and only the clothes on their backs, (no winter clothes), they do not cite welfare handouts or bank loans, but their country's unique culture of the people-specifically the Islamic tenet held 100 per cent of the Somali people.

During the nasty and bloody civil war, which deteriorated into clan warfare described by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as the world's greatest tragedy after World War Two, the surviving inhabitants collaborated closely to share what little food they scavenged despite the widespread lootings and killing of innocent civilians. The blood-thirsty warlords turned their guns on each other after ousting the military dictator, instead of rebuilding the devastated country and saving the nation's afflicted citizens.

Having suffered in their native country, many of them continue to have frequent nightmares, sleep problems, fearfulness, severe anxiety, depressive symptoms and intrusive thoughts of the loved ones they lost in the unending clan warfare, but in the United States they often hear the healing words of "HI!", "THANK YOU!" and "WELCOME!" each accompanied with a smile that makes you feel at home in peace time Somalia. Meanwhile, in Somalia, the warlords fought each other over who would control the country, and in the process destroyed Mogadishu, the Somali capital once dubbed as the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean" beyond recognition until they were ousted by the Union of Islamic Courts in July this year.

Thousands of miles away, in Minneapolis the newcomers wanted to play big in their new environment in terms of business acumen in a bid to overcome the trauma and send their children to school. Many of them became American citizens and visit their loved ones at home and sponsor for them. Others send money through Somali owned wire transfer companies conveniently located inside the Somali malls. Many of them acknowledge their lives had changed a lot in 15 years, despite the harsh winter.

There are other vitals services inside the Somali malls in Minneapolis, including barber shops, tax return service, video stores, coffee shops, restaurants, mail boxes etc. But the most intriguing space is Towfiq Computer School with the slogan, "Aqoon La aan waa Iftiin La aan." Mohamud isse, the President\Instructor of the school is a well versed young man in the hi-tech business.

"If I was going to ask someone to work on computers, I had to know how to do them myself," he says. Mohamud Isse's energetic entrepreneurial spirit and business background led him to open cozy conference hall, a modern coffee bar with clean tables and chairs, and with another eye-catching poster that says: "No Qabil (tribalism) and Politics." The huge space is tucked alongside one of the heavily trafficked corridors of the Mall.I asked Mohamud Isse how the school computer was fairing. "The students are happy. We made the move for them and their future," he says.

That was the bride side: and now the dark side. As the ordinary men and women wanted to play big in their adopted country in terms of business venture in a bid to overcome the trauma, and start a new life, some of the community leaders and clerics woefully abdicated their responsibilities in order to develop and sustain environments of mutual respect.

I came across some community leaders who consume valuable time and energy competing internally for resources and recognition from State officials, supporting their own clans, rather than focusing on the challenges that galvanize the culture and drive results.

Simply put, the ugly head of clan worshipping showed its head and made its presence felt, even in the United States! These leaders must communicate clear and compelling vision. Good leaders should understand that the way a community responds to adversity can be very revealing.

A County official was once quoted by the bulky Star Tribune newspaper as saying, "It is amazing how things work out for penniless refugees, and we are trying to work with these neophyte business people-not to put them out of business, but the problem is their leaders. Each has his own personal agenda."

Hopefully, community leaders and the clerics will create opportunities for more people to share that sort of pride, and suppress their own personal agendas for the good of the community.


Next week we will publish some of the photographs taken inside the thriving Somali Malls of Minneapolis.
The Webmaster banadir.com

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