2014-07-29
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Visit to Somalia inspires woman; she says she's optimistic about country's future

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

When Hudda Ibrahim set her eyes on the mainstream news channels, she saw episodes of deadly violence unfolding in war-torn Mogadishu, the Somali capital she evacuated when the civil war erupted in 1991.
Hudda Ibrahim holds a Somali flag Sunday at her home in St. Cloud. Ibrahim recently visited Mogadishu and found conditions much improved.
Hudda Ibrahim holds a Somali flag Sunday at her home in St. Cloud. Ibrahim recently visited Mogadishu and found conditions much improved. / Dave Schwarz, dschwarz@stcloudtimes.com

During the two decades Ibrahim lived in Ethiopia, Kenya and St. Cloud, she yearned to someday see stories of a stable Mogadishu, which her heart never truly left.

In her last semester at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Ibrahim made a decision that would change her perspective about Mogadishu: She had to visit the city to see its realities firsthand.

After she graduated from St. Ben’s in May with a degree in peace studies, she spent two months in Mogadishu. She met officials from the fragile Somali government, university students, health professionals and other representatives of the society. Personal contacts and friends in Minnesota helped her connect with key leaders.

“I was really scared before I landed in Somalia,” said Ibrahim, who returned to her home in St. Cloud several weeks ago. “I didn’t know if I was able to come back alive.”

When Ibrahim began walking and driving through Mogadishu streets, however, she found that the sights before her eyes were different from the horror images the Western media presented on television: Mogadishu is safe, people are busy chasing their dreams and doing what they could to create better lives for themselves, she said.

“I met young doctors, men and women, who are working in Mogadishu’s biggest hospitals, saving lives,” Ibrahim said. “Most of these men and women got their education in Somalia during the civil war. And now, here they are rebuilding the country.”

Country's return to normalcy

Many Somalis who lived in the United States, Canada and Europe have gone back to Somalia with new ideas about business models.

“They’ve opened new Western-like restaurants, which are open past midnight,” Ibrahim said. “I used to eat at these restaurants. They’re among the most popular places.”

After decades of anarchy and bloodshed, Ibrahim said, Mogadishu is back to normalcy. Tens of thousands have returned to Somalia to build houses, take up employment in the private and government sectors and teach at colleges and universities.

A news report by BBC Africa states: “The spectacular ruins are being patched up. Hotels are being built. There are even streetlights in some places. And everywhere, you hear the accents: Texan, Geordie, Minnesotan, south London, Scandinavian.”

The return to Somalia has become a phenomenon in the Somali community living abroad since al-Shabab, an Islamist group that has been designated as a terrorist organization, was defeated and uprooted from its strongholds.

From 2008 through 2012, al-Shabab controlled many regions in Somalia — and imposed strict Shariah law that included stoning to death men and women who committed adultery and amputating the hands of thieves.

Mogadishu has changed from the al-Shabab era, Ibrahim said.

“Today, men and women swim together at beaches. You’ll find men and women on the streets in Western-style clothing.” This wasn’t the case when al-Shabab was in power.

Al-Shabab still carries out attacks

Even though Ibrahim is quick to say that Mogadishu is safe and tranquil, there have been news reports of deadly attacks, which al-Shabab remnants regularly carry out since the organization lost ground to the administration backed by the United States and United Nations.

On July 30, a suicide bomber in a vehicle filled with explosive devices drove into an African peacekeeping group in Mogadishu, killing eight civilians, according to a Reuters news report.

In June, Islamists attacked a United Nations compound in Mogadishu, engaging in an hour-and-a-half gun battle with security forces and then detonating an explosive device that killed at least 15 people, Al-Jazeera English reported.

Still, Ibrahim says such occurrences aren’t unique to Mogadishu. She added: “Remember the Boston Marathon bombing? Remember the September 11 attacks? Nowhere in the world can be said is completely safe.”

Ibrahim encourages the educated Somali diaspora to return and be part of the journey to bring Mogadishu to life.

This fall, Ibrahim is starting her master’s degree in policy analysis and political change at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. After graduation, she said she hopes to use her knowledge for rebuilding Somalia.

“Somalia needs us now more than ever,” Ibrahim said. “I’m prepared to give my life for the country.”

Education needs improvement

The sites Ibrahim visited included the University of Mogadishu and Hope University,

where she facilitated a workshop on conflict resolution.

“The students are determined to succeed in school,” she said, “but education in Somalia needs improvement.”

Somalia has about 50 universities with more than 50,000 students, according to a new report by The Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, Somalia’s first think tank.

These institutions function without educational policies, have no research and publications and lack sufficient educational facilities, such as science and computer labs, the report said.

“The federal government and regional administrations must develop educational policies that address quality issues and align national priorities with educational policies,” suggested HIPS, which is headed by former Twin Cites Somali-American journalist, Abdi Aynte. “The international community should also work with national and sub-national entities to improve quality and capacity.”

Ibrahim said she’s optimistic about the current condition of Somalia and hopes that its citizens will take matters into their own hands in creating a better Somalia.




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