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Malaysia: Most Somali students are driven to get an education

Monday, February 21, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR - THERE is a sizeable number of Somalis studying at public universities in Kuala Lumpur, and the number is growing.

Yasir Mohamed Baffo, a tourism graduate of Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM), said Malaysia was a choice destination because it was a moderate Muslim country.

He said there were about 1,500 Somali students studying a range of courses from information technology to management courses, including Islamic finance, business, accounting, economics and international affairs

He said most of the Somali students were enrolled in UUM, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Universiti Malaya, Universiti Teknologi Mara and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.

"The students are funded by their families in Somalia and those who lived elsewhere," said Yasir, whose father works in the private sector in Saudi Arabia.

Yasir's 17-year-old sister is also studying at an international school in Kuala Lumpur. She has plans to pursue a degree in Islamic finance at a public university.

According to Yasir, the Somali community in Kuala Lumpur was close-knit and usually did not mix with those from the other African nations.

Yasir is proud of his Somali heritage and is quick to point out that award-winning writer Nuruddin Farah, well-known writer and Al Jazeera journalist Rageh Omaar and singer K'naan, who sang at the Fifa World Cup last year, are Somalis.

Yasir is hopeful that Somalia will have a stable government some day with a strong leader. He wants to return home after completing his master's next year and hopes to become a tourism minister one day.

He is also involved in youth movements worldwide, where he is striving to unite the educated Somali youth towards helping their country put into place a stable leadership.

On why he chose to study in Malaysia, Yasir said he was taken up by his secondary school teacher who studied in Malaysia.

"He painted such as wonderful picture of his time in Malaysia and I was so taken up, and made up my mind that I would come here."

Professor Dr Musse Mohamud Ahmed of the International Islamic University Malaysia's Engineering Faculty said he was also funded by his family when he came to Malaysia in 1996 to do his PhD.

Musse said Somali students were driven towards obtaining a good education.

"Almost 95 per cent of Somalis here are studying. You will never find a Somali going to a construction site to look for a job."

Ultimately, Musse said, all Somalis living out of Somalia had one goal: to return to Somalia some day.

Musse added that the crisis in Mogadishu was "purely political" and that there was no infighting among the people of Somalia.

It has been reported that Somalia has been without an effective central government since president Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.

Although Somalia had been without a proper government for the past 21 years, the country was thriving, said Musse.

"How many countries could thrive under such circumstances? It goes to show that the Somali people are hardworking, which keeps the economy going. It is just that we have a bad political system."

Musse also said the Somalis in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and even in Kenya and Dubai were successful and well-known for their business acumen.

"In Dubai, the Somalis are the second biggest contributors to the economy."

As for Musse, Malaysia is not the sole option to pursue his studies.

"I was offered by the National University of Australia in Sydney to do a PHD, but they told me to come a year later. Universiti Teknologi Malaysia also offered me a place and told me I could start straightaway, so I decided to come here."

To keep the community together, Musse has undertaken the role of chairman of the Somalis in Malaysia, while Yasir is a member of the Somali Students Society in Kuala Lumpur.

Yasir said they held regular workshops and seminars to help the Somali students blend in and learn the culture of the Malaysians.

UUM's assistant director of Centre for International Affairs and Cooperation, Kartini Tajul Urus, said there were 180 Somali students pursuing business and information technology degree courses at the university.

She said many of them had transferred from another local private university because the fees at UUM were cheaper, which ranged from RM7,200 to RM7,500 for a four-year undergraduate course.

Most of them were self-financed, she added.

While there were the "usual social" issues concerning the Somali students, she said there were no major disciplinary problems.

Multimedia University director of International Students Recruitment, Ezral Mokhtar, said it was part of the university's ongoing marketing efforts to get more Somali students to study at MMU.