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Federal official urges local Somalis to aid their broken country

Thursday, May 17, 2012
By  Mark Ferenchik

A U.S. State Department official told local Somali leaders that it’s up to them and other Somalis, not the U.S. government, to forge a new course for the broken country.

The United States has been trying to stabilize the country through institution-building – health care, schools, training Somali troops – said Donald Yamamoto, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of African Affairs, who spoke to local Somali leaders in Columbus today.

“We can only do so much. It’s their country,” Yamamoto said.

“They have to do the work.”

Abdikarim Omar agreed.

“Somalis have to call the shots,” said Omar, a local Somali leader who was the Somali ambassador to the United States from 1988 to 1991, when the regime of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed and the country disintegrated into civil war.

Yamamoto was in town as part of a three-city swing that also included Minneapolis and Seattle, home to two other large Somali communities. He talked to not only Somali leaders but also federal, state and law-enforcement members at the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities in Franklinton.

The transitional government, backed by the United Nations and U.S. government, is to cede power to a newly elected government by Aug. 20.

Abukar Sanei, the director and treasurer of the Muslim American Society in Columbus, said the Somali military and police have to be in place before a new government is formed.

Somalia remains a dangerous place.

In April, the bombing of a theater in the Somali capital of Mogadishu killed 10, including two top Somali sports officials. The extremist Islamic group al-Shabab claimed responsibility.

Al-Shabab “is still a power to be reckoned with,” Omar said.

Though older Somali leaders are concerned about what happens in their homeland, Yamamoto said he has found that younger members of the community just want jobs, want youth to stay away from gangs, and don’t want to be harassed.

“They want the American dream,” Yamamoto said.


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