UN Special Envoy to Somalia meets Minnesota diaspora community
Minneapolis - The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) for Somalia, Michael Keating, met with Somali-American elected officials, women’s rights activists and business and community leaders on Friday during a whirlwind visit to the city of Minneapolis, home to the largest Somali diaspora population in the United States.
Mr. Keating was hosted by the U.S. legislator Keith Ellison, who represents Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District where most of the state’s Somali residents live.
“The diaspora is both a repository of ideas, of business connections, of hope in many ways and the government in Somalia right now is the most diaspora government there has ever been,” the senior UN envoy told a meeting of Somali entrepreneurs, community leaders and humanitarian aid organizers at the Minneapolis office of the National Urban League, a non-partisan civil rights organization.
Participants expressed concerns over the security threat posed by Al-Shabaab militants. Other topics included U.S. regulations on remittances – a vital source of hard currency for the Horn of Africa country -- and ongoing political tensions in Somalia.
“We are grateful to facilitate the kind of conversations that are taking place in Somalia right now. The current reality is not state-forming, it is state-building, and that is a huge progress,” Mr. Keating noted.
He later delivered a speech at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs entitled, “New Beginning in Somalia: Building Lasting Peace, Security, and Prosperity.” The SRSG’s address focused on financial reform, job creation initiatives, inclusive politics and the vital role the Somali diaspora is playing in the reconstruction of their country.
“The government in Somalia is largely drawn from the diaspora, a lot of the money that is helping people cope with the current drought conditions is coming from the diaspora. A lot of the political support for Somalia from a number of countries, whether it’s the US, Europe, Canada or other places, is coming as a result of the diaspora support,” he told the public forum.
Members of the audience asked questions about the state of Somalia's health care system, security conditions and the role of women in the country’s politics.
Strong women, strong communities
The UN’s top envoy in Somalia attended a luncheon with elected Somali-American officials.
Mr. Keating’s next stop was the headquarters of Isuroon, a non-profit organization that lobbies for the empowerment of Somali-American women in Minnesota and improved health care services for the diaspora community.
Founded by Fartun Weli in 2010, Isuroon also operates programmes designed to combat gender inequality, poverty and social isolation. Ms. Weli thanked the SRSG for meeting with women, girls and families who are supported by her organization. “We are very proud to create a safe space for women,” said the Isuroon executive director.
Visiting the largest Somali mall in America
Mr. Keating ended his stay in Minneapolis with a tour of the four-story Karmel Mall, the largest shopping center catering to the Somali community in the United States. The mall also serves as a community center bringing together Somalis from all walks of life.