Organized by Maryland based Somali American Community Association (SACA) and cosponsored by Somali Family Care Network and Amoud Foundation, in attendance were representatives of the US Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs – Somalia Desk, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and several Somali community leaders.
Last year’s forum focused on protecting and promoting the Somali communities’ civil rights and liberties.
The forum, held at the Courtyard Marriott in Alexandria, Virginia, was attended by approximately 75 people, including representatives from Somali non-governmental agencies, Somali Diaspora Youth, and the Somali Parents Group. The Somali American Community Association conducted an online survey and found concerns that are consistent with the concerns raised during the forum. According to Khalif Hired, Vice Chairman of SACA, “there is a need for an inclusive national dialogue with all stakeholders of the Somali Republic to reach a comprehensive agreement that would address the root causes of conflict, humanitarian and refugee crisis, and lack of good governance and democratic institutions.”
The eight million Somalis in this east African Muslim nation have suffered from the worst political and humanitarian crisis in recent history, mainly as a result of limited progress toward meaningful reconciliation among various ideologically-driven groups and weak and unaccountable clan, regional, and national leaderships. The myopic views of the international community, including the United Nations, has also hindered any progress to significantly curtail the humanitarian crisis. Political solutions have remained elusive, according to many experts, because the international community has pursued policies that are incongruent with the interest of Somalis. War on terror, maintaining a weakened and divided Somalia, territorial desires and ensuring their corporations unfettered access to the country’s natural resources have prevailed in the minds of many foreign leaders, particularly those in neighboring nations.
The attendees, including the representatives from the US Department of State, were hopeful that within 24 hours of this forum Somalia will peacefully move from the Transitional Government to a permanent government. A new parliament will elect a president from a field of over 20 candidates, many of whom currently maintain residence outside of the country. It remains to be seen whether the new government will succeed where previous governments have failed in bringing peace and prosperity back to Somalia. Somalis want to see tangible results from their leaders, including ending the humanitarian crisis that led to 1.5 million refugees and 3.6 million people on the verge of starvation, bringing peace and stability by initiating a true dialogue with opposition groups, and ending corruption at all levels of government.
Some of the key questions from the audience and online survey included: Creating nation-building projects that would go beyond mere donations; ending US policies that balkanize, promote, and facilitate the clan-based regions; revitalizing key public institutions; empowering and engaging the US-based Somali NGOs working on humanitarian and refugee crisis in and outside of Somalia due to their knowledge of their people and penetration in areas that foreign NGOs do not service; and consulting with Somali Americans in the development of US policies towards Somalia.
One of the major concerns in the minds of many Somalis is the US Dual-Track approach to Somalia, which they believe is balkanizing Somalia into several clan-based regions independent from the national government. Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of African Affairs, who was not at the forum, previously indicated that the Dual Track policy is to stabilize Somalia through military intervention led by the US and African Union as well as recognize relative stability in regions by establishing diplomatic and development agreements without undermining the concept of a unified Somali state.
Many Somalis believe the new Somali constitution completed this year and the establishment of a more permanent government are not totally a Somali-driven process; however, they are hopeful that this is a step in the right direction to move beyond 22 years of political and humanitarian upheavals. SACA leadership hopes the forum will initiate a meaningful and ongoing dialogue with key US policy makers to find long-term solutions to the humanitarian and refugee crisis in Somalia with the leadership of US-based Somali NGOs working in Somalia.
In 2010, Save Somalia: Humanitarian and Refugee Awareness Campaign, a project of SACA, developed a resolution to the 111th US Congress calling on the government of the United States, the international community, and the people of the Somali Republic to support the protection of civilians, unconditional ceasefire, peace and good governance, and unrestricted humanitarian access to refugees and internally displaced populations. Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim Congressman, and Congressman Thomas Petri, a former Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Somalia, showed some interest but in the end the Resolution did not advance.
The event concluding with the 4th Somali Youth Essay contest on humanitarian and refugee crisis in Somalia and Quran verses read by two of the finest students from Al-Huda School, Jibril Yasir and Risaleh Yasir. The essay winners for the high school level were Ahmed Ahmed and Aisha Ahmed and for the middle school level were Khadija Abu, Alaa Ahmed, and Mohamed Sheikh.
Ahmed Elmi is the Chairman of the Somali American Community Association