The Global Somali Diaspora conference in Istanbul, Turkey (June 21, 2014) - Photo: HOL
by Abdi Barud
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
After two days of intensive deliberation and discussion an organisation with very ambitious global objectives was born in June 2014. It was named Global Somali Diaspora (GSD) and I was elected to be one of its drivers, actually the main driver. Hearing the news of my appointment was an emotional roller coaster moment for me as I had mixed feelings: honour, gratitude and joy. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure if I was the right person for this job. I felt scared that I may fail to deliver. To this point in my life, with the blessing almighty Allah,I have been able to achieve most goals that I sat myself to, both on personal and professional level, but I had no doubt this was a different level and the expectations were high.
The vote of confidence that was given to me by some of the brightest and the best of diaspora members was itself reassurance .At the back of mind, I was deeply aware that the road ahead could have the potential to be slippery, but I was convinced at that moment – and continue to believe so – that it is our generation’s duty to change it from slippery to smooth for the future generations.
Now where are we after 6 months? Certainly the task ahead still looks quite daunting; no question about that, but my confidence is also growing by the day that the dream of unified Somali Diaspora is within our reach. The public support has been overwhelmingly positive and welcoming. In a short space of time the organisation’s foundation has been laid successfully and now we are operating in 20 countries, in different levels and on forms.
That’s said we still have many challenges ahead, but we can overcome them by redoubling our resolve and determination to achieve what is right but not necessarily easy. We must defeat the sense of despair, which speaks louder than the sanguine voices of our communities. What I found in my engagement with our communities from Leicester to Virginia and Copenhagen to Nairobi is that we are not divided as some would suggest. Are there difference of ideas and views? Of course, but who can tell me a community that has no differences at all; come to think of it, having differences is not a bad thing itself but how we navigate through such differences is crucial. If other communities can navigate their differences we shouldn’t be different.
Some people say to me that Somali Diaspora “cannot be united around a common purpose because of its politics”. Of course, politics is by nature a contentious and complex issue. Like, every country, including my own adopted country the United Kingdom where there is a lively and ongoing debate about the direction of travel, Somali people do have different views as to what is the best way forward for our country, although I do think the differences are sometimes exaggerated or misunderstood, unintentionally or perhaps deliberately.
The fact that GSD is a non-political, non-regional and inclusive organisation has enabled us to win the hearts and the minds of significant diaspora members and organisations so far. What GSD aims to do is to continue to build a genuine capable and accessible platform that will advocate, organise and mobilise diaspora for common-agreed-needs and inspirations. It aims to further enhance solidarity among Somali communities and ensuring the rights of all Somali people, and defend them, fight for them whenever and wherever their rights are violated.
Most people would agree, that we should come together to fight racism and discrimination against Somalis – a problem which is sadly growing across the globe and needs an urgent, collective and coordinated effort; nobody disagree the need to tackle the ill-considered and discriminative attempts by some banks to shut-down lifeline system for millions of Somali families by closing remittance accounts. All Somali parents in diaspora are fervent to see their children becoming more educated and more respected in their adopted societies. We all see preserving and promoting our rich culture as an issue of great importance. People want to see the end of organised killing of Somalis in South Africa. We all want form the Libyan and Sudanese governments to take urgent actions against trafficking criminals, who openly operate between their borders to imprison, abuse and use Somalis as commodity which has become chronic hostage crisis for our families on daily basis but goes unreported and unchallenged.
To claim GSD will swiftly eliminate these problems would be disingenuous. But to claim that Somali Diaspora cannot work together on common purpose and cannot have a unified voice to defend their brothers and sisters or they cannot promote the wellbeing of their communities would not only be disingenuous but insulting our intelligence and dignity. Indeed, for the last few months, I travelled the globe and met many community leaders and contrary to the perception– that of disunity and mistrust of among Somali Diaspora – there is a strong sense of maturity, consensus and urgency about the importance of collaboration and coordination in an organised fashion. What it is commonly perceived as our diaspora’s biggest weakness, is actually its greatest strength and that is why if the differences managed will extend our options.
We need to remember that helping one another and coming together to support each other in the hour of need is not a foreign concept to us. No, in fact I believe it is inherited characteristic that well-embedded in our DNA. When recently Kenyan government was accused of grave violations by indiscriminatingly arresting and harassing Somalis there was a unanimous public outcry from Somali Diaspora and together they took on the Kenya government to stop its illegal actions against law-obedient Somalis. Similarly, when Barclays had tried to close down the remittance’s account all communities came together and ensured this did not happen.
Nevertheless, to counter future challenges and make better use of opportunities we need to be proactive, not reactive. Strengthening connectivity and enhancing trust among communities and developing a credible organisation would allow us to respond problems more effectively and systematically. Being proactive means helping and supporting our citizens to become more active citizens in their host countries and it is becoming actors not speculators. That’s precisely why GSD aims to work with communities on the local level and encouraging their participation in political process in the countries that they are living. Being a proactive means developing tools for organisational and institutional capacity to deal problems when they rise. It means working with our money transfer companies to develop strategies to ensure the lifeline system for millions of Somali families is safeguarded in a legal manner. It means developing relationships with other minority communities who are experiencing similar problems, such as discrimination. It means working with local organisations including mosques and community organisations to be more equipped and responsive to the needs of their communities and continue to build a global coalition that has what it takes to promote and protect common needs and interests.
My success or failure of this role will be determined and judged by my fellow Somalis but there are good reasons to believe that things can only get better for us – we have the people, skills, knowledge, resources and willingness, but what we need to do is to join the dots and we can do this.
Executive Director of Global Somali Diaspora (GSD)