Former Somali prime minister visits St. Cloud leaders

Former Somali prime minister visits St. Cloud leaders

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Community leaders say a visit to St. Cloud Friday by a former Somali prime minister shows the need for Somalis to integrate in communities like St. Cloud while learning skills that will help rebuild Somalia.

Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo met leaders at the Central Minnesota Community Foundation. He served as prime minister from 2010-2011 and is considering a run for president there in the September 2016 election.

Businessman Tohow Siyad, the first Somali board member for the Central Minnesota Community Foundation, was involved in bringing Farmajo to town. Local Somali and community leaders, including Mayor Dave Kleis, said Farmajo’s visit showed that St. Cloud is important to Somalia.

“He’s someone who has an influence on (the Somali) community,” said Abdul Kulane, a Somali community leader.

As diversity increases in St. Cloud, sometimes with negative consequences, Farmajo’s visit was an opportunity to bring some cultural understanding from an authoritative source, he said.

“That can be an influence … for the larger community to see that Somalia is interested in St. Cloud. That’s a good start. We really appreciate that,” said Jama Alimad, a Somali elder.

“It tells us the importance of this community and the Somali community in the St. Cloud area, that we’d have a former prime minister wanting to come and visit,” said Steve Joul, president of the foundation. “To us, it was an opportunity to demonstrate how important it is to build bridges and build connections in this community.”

Farmajo spoke about a range of topics, including Somali immigrant integration into American society, the role of the Somali diaspora in rebuilding Somalia and what an effective Somali government would look like.

Farmajo first came to the U.S. as a diplomat when he was 23 in 1985, moving the the U.S. three years later. He has lived in Buffalo, New York, for the last 25 years, after moving there from Minnesota to go to college.

He served in different positions for local and state government in New York before being asked to be prime minister while visiting Somalia for a vacation.

In Somalia, the president serves as the head of state, while the prime minister is responsible for the government’s day-to-day activities.

Farmajo said one of his major accomplishments early on was getting pay to active military members and civil servants, consistently and consecutively for six months.

“It was something they had not seen before,” he said.

He said the best way to integrate a community is to get Somali leaders talking and working with non-Somali leaders.

“It also helps to allow people to understand the culture,” he said. “We need the community leaders and city leaders to work together to educate the public about Somali culture and, of course, why they’re here — to put (it in) human terms.”

He said Somali and non-Somali leaders as well as the media have a role to play.

“There must be someone that explains that no culture is good and no culture is bad. That’s why we have diversity. The United States is better than a lot of places in the world because of that rich diversity,” he said.

“One person does one (wrong) thing and the whole community pays the price,” he said. “That’s not fair, but we also understand. You don’t know the bad ones from the good ones.”

He suggested building empathy.

“These people here in St. Cloud should put the Somali people in their shoes,” he said. “They come here to a safe and peaceful environment where they work and grow their families peacefully. Although they are hard-working people … they have stigmas: religion, color, immigrants. Everybody here in this city should see that just to think if they would be in their shoes, as a human.”

He suggested local government be proactive, offer work-related training for immigrants and hire Somali people in government agencies.

“To reach out to the community, reach out to the community leaders that are right here, and have them reach out to the Somali community on your behalf,” he said.

He has dual citizenship and says that Somali people can be good citizens of both countries. They can integrate into American society and contribute to the redevelopment of their country.

“The diaspora is the only hope for Somalia,” he said.

Farmajo said Somali women in the diaspora have always been on the forefront of helping family back in Somalia, by sending monthly stipends.

“Without women, Somalia would be a different country,” he said. “Think about this. Somalia has been without an effective government for the last 25 years. Now, which country can survive when there’s no government for that long? I think the Somali women sustained and keep helping that Somalia be, not stable, but at least in a very decent way.”

Farmajo said there are more Somali women than men in college, so it’s wise to include women in rebuilding Somalia.

The Somali people should expect their government to Westernize, to be hard working, honest, transparent, accountable, punctual, able to put together a plan and execute it.

That can be as simple as paying people on time, developing and maintaining a budget and building connections between the government and its people. They also have to address corruption, which he calls the main enemy of human development, within the government.

To effectively combat the militant group al-Shabab, Farmajo envisions a neutral fighting force, either one that is Muslim or one that is made up of African soldiers from cooperative countries. As al-Shabab loses hold on territories and influence, it also loses in influence to recruit young people.

As for whether he’ll run for president of Somalia next year, he answered as he heard a politician answer on “Meet the Press.”

“I’ll answer your question when I get the seed money,” he said, to a laughing crowd.

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