Peace and prospertiy in Somalia will affect local community.

Patriotism was at an all-time high among Somali-Americans gathered at Almis Coffee Shop downtown Rochester this week. MORE PICTURES INSIDE

Even coffee shop owner Abdulkadir Matan, who has run the shop 12 hours a day, seven days a week since opening it five months ago, closed early on Wednesday to celebrate Independence Day with his family.

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“All they can talk about this week is going to see the fireworks,” he said of his five children, who were all born in Minnesota.

The talk among older generations of Somali-Americans at the coffee shop, however, focused on excitement about the future of Somalia, which celebrated its 52nd year of independence from Italy on July 1.

For the first time since descending into civil war more than 20 years ago, the country is close to establishing a meaningful central government. Next month, a new parliament and constitution is set to replace the Transitional Federal Government of the past several years.

“We are happy to see the transitional government leaving to get a new regular government,” said Mohamad Osman, of Rochester. “It’s a good step in the improvement of Somalia.

“All in all Somalia will be a better place for everybody. Life will improve; security and safety will be improved.”

Better there, better here

A better life for the people in Somalia will have a direct impact on Rochester’s Somali community.

Family members back in Somalia will be less dependent on remittances, for one.

For two decades, Rochester’s Somali community has done what it can to support the families left behind in their war-ravaged homeland while trying to build their lives anew here.

As Somalia stabilizes and the people are able to return to work, the Rochester Somali community won’t have to send as much money home, Osman said. Currently, U.S.-based Somalis send about $100 million back home each year, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Improved security also means that the local community will be able to return to Somalia to visit family members and, in many cases, introduce their children to their ancestral homeland, a place they’ve never known, Osman said.

Having their say

In addition to looking forward to the direct impact a peaceful, prosperous Somalia will have here, local Somalis also are involved in making their dreams for Somalia a reality, he said.

“So far we’re helping with what we can do,” Osman said, such as providing intelligence from what the diaspora has learned while living in the United States and Europe. Plus, some Somali diaspora have returned to Somalia to work directly on effecting change.

Among the people with ties to Rochester working on the move from a transitional government to a permanent one are Abdifatah Abdinur and Sharmarke Hamud. Both former Rochester men are participating in a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, to make sure the new constitution and the timetable for the Road Map for Peace are followed.

Abdinur moved to Rochester in 1995 after leaving Mogadishu when he was 13. Here, he founded and directed New Faces of America Inc., a nonprofit group to help immigrants. He returned to his homeland in April 2011 to work as the general director of the Somali Ministry of Information.

Hamud, 22, a 2007 Mayo High School grad, was born in Washington, D.C., to Somali-born parents. He studied international political economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before becoming a consultant for an international development organization dealing with Somalia, which led to his participation at the conference in Nairobi.

“I wish that the future government would be one that is suitable to all Somalis, from the refugees in neighboring countries and internally displaced citizens, to the women and youth, as well as the diaspora abroad,” Hamud said. “I see a Somalia that will be competitive not only within the region, but a Somalia that has the opportunity to have positive global impacts where liberty, freedom and opportunity for every hardworking Somali has the accessibility to succeed and move out of poverty.”

For more than two decades members of the diaspora have made major contributions to Somalia through remittances, humanitarian aid and the participation in reconstruction and reconciliation efforts, he said.

More time and patience, the continuing influx of labor and technology, and faith in rebuilding the nation are needed, however, he said.

“Long-lasting peace in Somalia can only be achieved with the support and ownership of the process,” Hamud said. “I understand 20-plus years have exhausted the patience of many, but change will not happen over night. And that patience and support is needed.”

High hopes

“We expect better government, a government that will be fair for everybody,” said Abdinasir Hassan, of Rochester.

That government is being put into place by a group of traditional Somali elders, Matan said. The elders were selected to choose the new parliament. The new parliament will choose who is president, and the president will choose the prime minister, he said.

And while that’s all set to take place next month, many Somalis here are pleased already with the changes.

“We are happy to see the change,” said Abshir Dirshe, a Somali elder living in Rochester. “Whatever they ask of us, we’ll support.”

The new parliament is expected to be made up of 225 members, based on a “4.5-clan formula” as part of the Garowe Agreement, which gives each of the four major clans 50 members while a conglomeration of smaller clans would have 25 members, said Ikar Ikar, of Rochester.

“It’s a preliminary step,” Ikar said. After the conclusion of the first term of Parliament, four years from now, he said, he hopes the country moves to a “one man one vote” system.

A good start

The optimism for what’s to come is based on positive changes already happening on the ground.

During the past year, progress has been made toward stability in Somalia.

In spite of last summer’s drought and famine, which killed tens of thousands of people, the Transitional Federal Government and Somalia’s regional governments have made real political progress to conclude the transitional process. Plus, African Union troops helped push the Islamic militant group al-Shabab out of Mogadishu last August leading to several more al-Shabab controlled cities being taken back.

Youth who fought for al-Shabab are being taught new skills so they can have normal lives, Dirshe said.

Plus, new opportunities for success are cropping up.

Factories and many small businesses already are opening, with communications and construction among the leading industries, Matan said.

“There is a lot of hope for Somalia,” he said.

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