Last week, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison returned from a visit to Somalia, making him the first U.S. politician to visit the country after the U.S. recognized the new Somali government in January.
Ellison met with Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and others to discuss Somali refugees and U.S. remittances.
Many of Ellison’s Minneapolis constituents who have emigrated from Somalia in the recent decade urged him to visit the country.
“It is just going to build a bridge, strengthen the ties that are already there between people of Minnesota and people of Somalia,” said Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, author of “Somalis in Minnesota.”
Many members of the Twin Cities Somali community said the trip is a major step for Somalia-U.S. relations and serves as an inspiration for the Somali community as a whole.
“Right here in the Twin Cities, people are really being very optimistic and happy with the U.S. recognition,” said Abdisalam Adam, board chair of the Islamic Civic Society of America.
It’s fitting that a Minnesota politician was the first to visit Somalia after the U.S. recognition: Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the U.S., with the majority located in Minneapolis.
In 2000, there were an estimated 18,597 Minnesota residents with Somali ancestry, according to the State Demographer’s Office. In 2010, that number had increased to nearly 50,000, 18,000 of which lived in Minneapolis.
Somali residents in Minneapolis said Ellison’s trip was very meaningful.
“It’s really powerful,” said Osman Ahmed, a community organizer who graduated from the University of Minnesota and worked with Ellison last year.
Some hope Ellison’s visit will pave the way for other U.S. politicians.
“I would hope to see more U.S. officials … to make similar visits,” Adam said.
Ahmed also noted that while working with him, Ellison often said he wanted to visit Somalia.
Civil war broke out in Somalia in 1990 and General Mohammed Siad Barre, who was in power for 22 years, was soon overthrown and exiled by clan-based militias. Somalia was left without a central government and the ensuing struggle for power destabilized the nation.
Many Somali citizens fled to parts of Africa, Europe and the U.S.
The Twin Cities wasn’t the first place refugees lived. Many lived in California and the East Coast before settling in Minnesota.
Yusuf said Somalis came to Minnesota because of availability of jobs, the hospitality of the state and the opportunity to start a new community and take care of one another.
Many Somalis in Minneapolis settled in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.
Now, many residents of that community who came to the state when they were very young said they feel more of a community connection to the Twin Cities than to Somalia.
Hussein Samatar, who left Somalia nearly two decades ago, sits on the Minneapolis School Board and talked about running for mayor in late 2012.
Last year, Mohamud Noor ran for the state Senate but fell 339 votes short of securing a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party nomination, and likely a Senate seat. Noor would’ve been the first Somali-American state senator in the U.S.
While Somali residents become more involved in Minneapolis public life, politics in Somalia are stabilizing as well.
The nation now has a parliament, a constitution and a newly appointed president.
“It’s a really new excitement for the people of Somalia,” Samatar said. “Hopefully some of the issues that they deal with are over.”
Many members of the Somali community said Ellison’s visit is a positive sign for Somalia.
“We are reviving, Yusuf said. “…Somalia is coming out of darkness.”