by Thabit Mohamed
Saturday, November 19, 2016
A year has passed since the official reopening of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Somalia in Washington DC, USA. On 18 November 2015, the embassy hosted a ceremony to mark the official reopening after a period of absence that took 24 years. During this memorable gathering at the historical landmark Mayflower hotel, over a 100 guests consisting of U.S. government representatives, diplomats, international organizations and members of the Somali community came together to collectively turn the page in the history of Somali-U.S. ties.
The Somali Embassy has since been on a mission to reintroduce itself to the diplomatic community in DC, and we have been received in an incredibly graceful and respectable way. One of the unique characteristics that the DC setting provides is the interaction with a large diplomatic community and international organizations. During the past year, as representatives of Somalia, we have witnessed countless times the admiration many nations have for Somalia, and this is something that often dates back to our historic ties with these nations as well as our incredible track record in diplomacy in the past.
Under the leadership of Ambassador Ahmed I. Awad, we have formed a small team of mainly volunteers and committed community members from the Washington Metropolitan area who have been tirelessly working with the embassy. In many ways, this is a metaphor for the remarkable support the embassy has received from the entire Somali community in North America. Almost everyone we’ve met, no matter their age or what they truly know about Somalia’s past, we have heard the same story over and over again: to see the Somali flag rising again in downtown Washington DC was a sign of progress and hope for a bright future ahead.
Our work would have practically been impossible without the support of many Somali-Americans who have shown us incredible commitment, invested time and resources to make sure that flag continues to wave again in downtown DC. Somalia will be forever grateful for this.
Community engagement in North-America
In the absence of any official government representation, Somalis in North American have done an incredible job in the last 24 years organizing themselves and forming associations to fill in that gap. Our first task as an embassy, therefore, was straightforward: we needed to map out what community structures were already in place and how we could bring people together to work with the embassy and each other in order to serve Somali interests in the U.S. and North-America at large.
Beyond engagement, the embassy aimed at finding ways to capitalize on existing community potential. Our search brought us to different U.S. cities, and even across the border to Canada. Though the embassy is not yet officially accredited in Canada, we conducted meetings and received a warm welcome from Somali-Canadians during our visit to Toronto.
Our meetings with Somalis across the U.S. continued to impress us. Our mission was to introduce the embassy and our work, but we often found ourselves on the listening end. What we continued to find were people with remarkable stories of championing all odds against them to build up their lives in their communities, and essentially embracing what it means to be an American.
Nonetheless, there were also concerns. Meeting with different groups such as youth, religious associations, businesses owners and entrepreneurs, health practitioners, sports groups, women organizations, elders and representatives from the education sector familiarized us with the challenges Somali-Americans face on a daily basis. Challenges for which no simple answer exists, but together we created a common understanding and the willpower to solve them collectively.
Serving the Somali community with basic services
Since the reopening, the embassy has worked with the U.S. and Somali authorities to ensure we provide basic services to Somali communities. Supporting requests and providing consular services are amongst our top priorities. Among other services, we work on the issuance of new passports and passport renewals, authentication and certification of documents. The embassy is working towards establishing our first consular sections in Minnesota, Ohio, and Toronto in the near future.
In addition to the services, the embassy aims to serve the Somali people with a channel to their motherland. Our work as mediators between the U.S. and Somalia aims to strengthen the ties between the two nations, and its people. This means that our work has often ranged from encouraging and exploring opportunities for trade and investment in Somalia, to being ambassadors of Somali culture and heritage in the U.S..
In light of this, it gives us great pride that our presence in DC, the world’s diplomatic capital, is seen as a factor that boosts the moral of Somali people here and across the global. We have seen passionate people that are committed to help Somalia and invest in ideas and people. Communities have come together for the sake of supporting the embassy and its mission.
We are incredibly proud to have, even in the smallest sense, contributed to that a stronger sense of community between Somalis in the U.S.
A new era of partnership between Somalia and the United States
The United States’ recognition of the Somali government in 2013 marked an important moment for our nation. For the first time since 1991, the U.S. government was ready to embark on a new era of partnerships with Somalia. It was evident that this commitment and the visit from Secretary John Kerry to Mogadishu in May 2015, translated into a sense of optimism and hope for the Somali people.
Fast forward to November 2015. Another important milestone of this new era was the Resolution submitted to the House of Representatives by Representative Ellison and Representative Emmer supporting the opening of the Embassy. The document reinstates and marks a reaffirmation of U.S. support to the people and the government of Somalia as well as recognizing Somalia as an important regional ally and partner to the United States.
Building up on this, the Somali embassy now works closely with the State Department on various levels in order to strengthen our bilateral ties.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been a partner of the Somali people for many decades and we continuously work on strengthening this partnership. USAID delivers a huge scope of programs in various sectors; the most recent of them is the Bilateral Agreement for Educational Development in Somalia.
The embassy is grateful for the steadfast partnership the U.S. State Department has provided during a critical first year after the reopening of the Somali embassy.
On the level of international organizations and diplomatic associations, we have advanced and strengthened partnerships with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) in DC.
We are also prominent members of African Ambassadors Group and the Arab League in DC. Both bodies engage with Somalia through its embassy on policy issues, economic development as well as the 2030 Agenda.
Hopes for the future
While challenges remain, we are proud to see the progress we have made during the past year. The embassy is fully functioning and expanding. We are also working towards establishing an embassy presence in Canada. We continue to listen, engage and serve the Somali people in North America. Our aim is to remain a consistent partner to our colleagues and partners in DC.
We are hopeful that all Somali institutions will work towards building the trust of the Somali people and its partners during the coming years ahead. The embassy remains hopeful and focused on progress for our nation and our people.
Deputy Chief of Mission |
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Somalia to the United States of America
Email: [email protected]