The British Somalis drawn home to fix a broken nation

Bishara Mohamud

It may seem an unlikely travel destination, but some of the UK's 100,000 Somalis are hoping to head back and help rebuild their strife-torn homeland.

In Acton, west London, a few miles from where David Cameron played host to the Somali president on Tuesday, two young Somalis discuss returning to the country they left as children.

"I feel like everyone's gone back apart from me," says Bishara Mohamud. "I've got about 20 Somali friends who've gone back and I'm the only one left."

Bishara left the capital, Mogadishu, when she was seven. And now, after living in London for 21 years, she wants to go back and, one day, open an orphanage.

She is part of the growing number of Somalis who want to return and help their country as it gets back on its feet.

The East African state has been in chaos since the early 1990s, ravaged by war and famine. Al-Qaeda linked militants control great swathes of the country.

Image caption Newspaper editor Abdul Farah says he has received threats from Islamists

And the new government still depends on 18,000 African Union troops to remain in power.

It is a world away from the south east London streets Bishara now calls home.

"I worry about the bombs and al-Shabab, and I've been told there's nothing to do, especially for women. Most of the cafes and restaurants are full of men only," she says.

Al-Shabab, affiliated to al-Qaeda, are the Islamist insurgents who have waged war in the country since 2007.

But Bishara is not the only one apparently prepared to risk everything for her home country.


Abdul Farah, 63, plans to return to Somalia to start a weekly newspaper there.

He has edited the Somali newspaper Kasmo in London since 1997 and now wants to publish in his homeland.

Image caption Adam Matan came to the UK from the Somali-Ethiopia border when he was 13

"There is a general feeling amongst British Somalis that the country is getting better. Many people have property back home; others want to go and see how things are developing," he says.

As a critic of al-Shabab, does he worry about reprisals?

"You have to understand the country is still in the middle of a conflict. Part of that conflict is al-Qaeda and if you criticise them they will try to eliminate you."

He says he has received threats from Islamists in Somalia for what he has published in London.

"We want to help rebuild the country and educate the people."

Adam Matan, 26, works for the Anti-Tribalism Movement - a charity aimed at breaking down tribal barriers in Somalia.

He says he is going back this weekend to the country he left when he was 13, and plans to work for a non-governmental organisation.

"It's encouraging to see finally the country is progressing, and young people want to be part of that journey - of rebuilding Somalia.

"When I see people in the street and ask what they are doing in summer, the first thing they say is, 'Going back to Somalia'. There is a sense the country is getting better."

'Gun fire'

One Somali who has done just that is Adan Jama.

The 59-year-old was an interpreter in the UK and lived in London's Elephant and Castle.

He left Somalia in 1989 but has gone back - temporarily leaving his wife and three children - to help establish a semi-independent state in the Lower Juba region of the country.

His children are scared, he says, and call him every day.

"Every night here you hear gunfire. It's not fighting but young people who do not know how to treat guns.

"I knew I was not coming to Waterloo, I knew what to expect. But my aim is to improve the situation and to help the country where I was born."

It might be a hard one to fathom for those who have come to see Somalia as a by-word for violence and an example of what can emerge when government disappears. But for some British Somalis, even those who have grown up here, it is an easy choice.

"I have a good job, earn good money, I could stay here in the UK forever, says Adam Matan, pointing to his chest. "But there's something in me that draws me back."

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