For decades now, Somalia has been infamous for violence, poverty and government instability. The U.N. is warning of an oncoming famine. The U.S. has carried out airstrikes there for years targeting the militant group al-Shabab. And just this weekend, explosions in Mogadishu killed at least 11 people and wounded dozens more. And yet the country’s foreign minister is telling Somalis in the United States to return to build lives in Somalia and, in doing so, help rebuild the country. Ahmed Isse Awad spread that message this past week at a speech in Minneapolis.
AHMED ISSE AWAD: I told the Somali community in Minnesota – actually reminded them. They did not need to be told. They have already been contributing in a big way to the economic revival that’s happening in Somalia, the improvement on the political and the security situation in Somalia. So my message to them was, A, to continue their engagement and to come back and to visit the country so that they can witness the progress that’s happening.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You’d like for them to come back and live in Somalia as well.
AWAD: Those who want, yes.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The situation in Somalia has, as you mentioned, improved in recent years. But there is another famine on the horizon. Kenya just closed the border to trade because of the al-Shabab threat. So for Somalis living here in the United States who’ve worked so hard to build communities and settle in, is it not a huge sacrifice to move back?
AWAD: Yeah. They’ve been sacrificing already with their money and with their talents. The choice is theirs to move back permanently or to invest and to visit. The Shabab will not be, inshallah, any longer a threat to anyone. The famine luckily has been averted. The rain has come in a big way. The country is now ready for its daughters and sons to get involved so that we sustain the progress that has been made.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What has been the reaction of the Somali community to your advice?
AWAD: They have welcomed it. The community was enthusiastic to hear the hopeful developments in Somalia. I guess they will make their decisions based on my advice but also on their own evaluation of the situation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But you have personal experience leaving Somalia as well and then coming back. You went to school in Montreal. You were the U.S. ambassador.
AWAD: That’s right. And my experience has taught me that, first of all, the role of the diaspora is very important and what was also called sometimes the reversal of the brain drain, in the case of India, for example. I wish that many Somalis come back to Somalia to contribute to the rebuilding of the country. So I thought I should pitch my message to the community, in this case in Minnesota, and to appeal to their involvement so that we can sustain the progress that was made.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You gave this speech in Minnesota, where I understand your son has just graduated from high school. Congratulations. So what does he think of your advice to come home?
AWAD: Of course I have made the appeal to him as well.
AWAD: But right now he’s admitted to the University of Minnesota. And hopefully when he graduates, he will consider my suggestion to him.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ahmed Isse Awad is the foreign minister of Somalia.
Thank you very much, sir.
AWAD: Thank you.