Can expatriate Somalis rebuild their country?


Somalia is preparing for presidential elections later this month

Mohammed Martello was standing on a sand dune beside the beach just north of Mogadishu, with a big grin on his face.

"Look at that view," sighed Mr Martello, an estate agent who returned home to Somalia recently after years spent living in Luton, England.

Nearby, two elegantly dressed Somali women - one in business, the other a politician's wife - emerged from an air-conditioned car to view the plots with keen interest.

"We've sold 115 houses… Prices are skyrocketing. Everybody is looking for property. I want to make enough money to buy a good house for my kids in Chelsea, London! Posh area! Now is the time to stabilise Somalia - 110%!" gushed Mr Martello.

His enthusiasm is not merely a sales pitch.

Start Quote

I believe the diaspora will have a big role to play in Somali politics”

End Quote Yusuf Garaad Presidential candidate

After more than 20 years of war and anarchy, Mogadishu is enjoying a rare, extended period of relative calm.

Amidst the rubble, homes are being rebuilt, cafes and hotels opening, thousands of members of the diaspora are returning, and everyone is talking - with varying degrees of confidence - about a future without bloodshed.

There are two driving factors behind that optimism.

Firstly, the militant Islamist group al-Shabab, which once controlled more than half the city, was driven out by African Union and Somali government troops more than a year ago and now appears to pose only a limited threat inside Mogadishu. The group has also lost control of several other key towns and cities.

Secondly, after years of failed peace initiatives organised abroad, Somalia's endlessly feuding politicians are finally back in their own capital city, and nearing the climax of an exhaustive, Somali-led, internationally chaperoned new process that has already delivered a new constitution and by 20 August is supposed to produce a new parliament and president - and with luck, something resembling a functioning government with a reach that might extend far beyond Mogadishu.

Corruption concern
Real estate agent Mr Martello with a client The relative calm in Mogadishu is encouraging expatriate Somalis such as Mohammed Martello to return

"Vote for a real leader," shouted a group of women standing in matching outfits at the heavily guarded gates of the city's airport. They broke into song as a heavily armed convoy emerged, carrying the latest candidate to throw his hat into the presidential ring.

For many years Yusuf Garaad has been running the BBC's Somali Service from Bush House in London. He quit last week and flew back to Mogadishu.

"I believe the diaspora will have a big role to play in Somali politics. We have seen what peace and development mean," he said. Hours after landing, al-Shabab announced on a website its intention to kill him.

"I think that [threat] is positive for my campaign. It shows that they know I mean business and I don't like them and won't let them exercise their brutal terrorism in Somalia," he declared.

That threat is one of many signs that a little scepticism may be appropriate amid all the excited predictions that Somalia is finally turning a corner.

The UN has already warned that the election process - consisting of a clan-based system for nominating MPs, who in turn pick the president - is riddled with corruption. Many insiders have acknowledged as much, with reports that $50,000 (£31,832) is now the going rate for an MP's seat.

"It's a very depressing situation," said Mohammed Nur, the mayor of Mogadishu. "Where do they get the money from? That money is supposed to build the roads and hospitals."

It's hard to gauge the full extent of the alleged corruption. But it's a measure of both how much worse things have been in the past, and how desperate Somalis are for progress, that most people I've spoken to here are inclined to invest real hope in the current "road map", even if it is an obviously flawed process at the mercy of the usual currents of clan rivalry and regional divisions.

"It's like sausages being made," said Abdul Karim Jama, a former presidential adviser who now runs a think tank in Mogadishu.

"The process is messy, but it should pave the way for a one person one vote election in four years' time. Most importantly, the ordinary people are behind this process."

Start Quote

Hopefully we will reclaim our country in the next few months”

End Quote Tariq Bihi Advisor, Somali prime minister

Significantly, there's supposed to be a quota for women MPs, and a committee busy attempting to screen candidates and bar those without qualifications, as well as the more notorious warlords.

'Biggest vote of confidence'

In the Hamar Weyne market, a shop owner rubbed his fingers together to indicate that the election process was corrupt, but then shrugged and said "things are getting better, for sure".

"Hopefully we will reclaim our country in the next few months," said Tariq Bihi, a London-based Somali who came home this year to advise the Somali Prime Minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, who is also running for president.

"Everybody is coming back. People are investing their money - that's the biggest vote of confidence you can have," said Mr Bihi.

He insisted Mogadishu was no more dangerous today "than any other big city", but conceded that the prime minister's campaign schedule was being severely curtailed because of fears he could be targeted by al-Shabab militants, who continue to infiltrate the city and only last week killed six soldiers with a roadside bomb.

Women campaigning for presidential hopeful Yusuf Garaad Politicians expect a functioning government after the elections

"I'm more or less a prisoner here," said Mohammed Yahye, a 28 year old from Wembley, London, who came back to Mogadishu three months ago to help with a charity that provides small grants to youth groups in the city.

"People might attack me because I'm diaspora - thinking I've got money. They think we are all rich but that's not the case. Al-Shabab are still lurking around in Mogadishu streets so it's not good to walk around like back at home," he said, but insisted things were improving.

Back at the beach, Mohammed Martello was watching a bulldozer try to smooth over the dunes. Our security guards eyed the landscape warily - the edges of Mogadishu remain contested ground and this area used to be an al-Shabab stronghold.

For now, Mr Martello conceded, most houses are being bought by speculators looking "to flip" the properties for a profit. He said his company tries to work only with "legitimate" investors but has no real way of telling if the cash comes from pirates or other criminals.

"To be honest, corruption in Somalia is epidemic. It's worse than the warlords. Worse than al-Shabab. If we don't fight corruption we will end up with nothing," he said, but then quickly moved back onto more positive territory.

"After so many phases - tribal, warlords, religious - now every option has finished," he said.

So Somalis have run out of reasons to fight? "Absolutely."

Andrew Harding Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Seeing Somalia healing has proven over 20 years to be a extremely rare occurrence. This is precisely why the Arab League, UN etc should provide Somalia with funding in the right form in order to support quick recovery and bar corruption.

    In relation to the 'Corruption is worse than violence' statement made by a commenter - violence causes thousands of deaths, have you not seen the effects?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    somaliwarlord - corruption worse than violence? hmm...
    whitefall - i agree that an entirely military solution is unrealistic. if the new government gains momentum it will be interesting to see if some al shabaab elements are prepared to negotiate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    thanks for your comments. sense of excitement mounting here as election appears to loom closer. concerns about intimidation and vote-buying persist. also fears that the losers may not accept defeat.
    dinesh and groats - if you look closely, you'll note this was an article about somalia, not britain.
    bluesberry - i would dispute some of your list, and urge you to compare it with last year's stats.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    healing somalia must be the priority of the world & i think this is the right time

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    "Why corruption is a cause of concern for Somalis"

    They are not alone

    Corruption at Westminster is a cause of concern for British people

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I suspect these will be relatively weathy ex-pats, so If they don't get kidnapped and held to ranson or become the very same that have ruined their country...time will tell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The whole issue of development (with or without humongous corruption) is counter to the ethics (if you can call it so) of political Islam as the groups like al-Shabab, or al-Qaeda are trying to propagate. The more the people are kept in a society run by ossified, religious dogma the easier it is for a chosen few to manipulate them, and continue the looting of resources and accrue wealth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Your 100% correct. This article is a standard BBC article. a few Somalians go back and the BBC is trying to convince us that now immigration is no longer a problem. Save it Mr Beeb,

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Good for them! I hope others get the message and do the same thing. That country needs these now educated people back 'home' to help rebuild a better, stronger country!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The best of luck to them. Corruption is a real killer in lots of ways, whether in Somalia or the UK, & let's hope these 'British-based' Somalis can help turn round their country. The UK would benefit too, with reduced immigration, and perhaps a little in the way of emigration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    It will be difficult for them with corruption and famine in somalia their work is cut off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    If Britain revived it's Merchant fleet before it's too late we could have lots of Somali seamen earning hard currency to send home just like not so long ago. I sailed with lots of them, maybe they are pirates now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I suspect that this article was written to ease people's concerns about mass immigration -- "Look! Some immigrants eventually return to their home countries! We were just putting them up for a bit, like Couchsurfers!"

    In reality, in the case of Somalia, are we really talking about more than 10 or 20 people who are doing this? And is anyone who isn't extremely wealthy doing it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    There is oil, just check out this link, the Americans were about to exploit the country years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I wish them all success. The sooner they sort their own countries out, then the less need for their populations to flood into Europe!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Ban Ki-moon is seriously concerned about delays in the selection of the new Somali Parliament. Recent acts of intimidation & violence are threatening success of Somalia's transition. Ban Ki-moon calls for Somali political leadership, traditional Elders & other parties to rise above their differences, to act in best interest of the Somali people.
    When did that ever happen?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Llatest news from Somalia does not bespeak peace any time soon:
    Aug 13, Al Shabaab Attacks Army Base Mogadishu
    Aug 13, Uganda military helicopters missing
    Aug 13, 2 journalists killed in Mogadishu
    Aug 11, Former PM Supporters' Shot At Rally Mogadishu
    Aug 8, Somalia's Shebab remain major threat Mogadishu
    Aug 7, MP Shot & Killed Outside Mosque Garowe.
    And then, there's corruption.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    As a Somali myself I should have big optimism but I wont let myself be disappointed once again. I know my people well. Therefore I see more turmoil to come. The amount of corruption is preposterous. So if we will have this type of corruption I just want us to remain unstable because corruption is worst then violence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    It's extremely naive to think that the "religious" option has "finished". Islam is still very strong there. Jihadists and Islamists will fight for a true Islamic state with full Islamic law. This element has not been driven away or defeated. You're just fooling yourselves into thinking everything will be fine now; little do you realise that you're in the eye of the storm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Great News, If they can find the supposed oil that lies beneath their lands, maybe Somalia can become the UAE of East Africa



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