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Diaspora partnerships key to effective action and impact

Liban Obsiye & Sakariye Hussein
Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Somali Diaspora plays a central role in the nations steady journey towards stability and progress. As discussed in our earlier articles on the issue, aside from the remittances and returning to Somalia to rebuild government institutions, invest and serve in the Government itself, the Somali Diaspora are also serving as Ambassadors in their adopted homes.

In key places like the USA, UK and Canada, Somalis are now making measurable socio-economic and political progress. The best evidence for these bold statements are the election of Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim female to be elected to Minnesota’s state house of representatives in the most recent US elections and the promotion of Ahmed Hussen to the Minister of Immigration in Canada by Prime Minister Trudeau in the most recent Cabinet reshuffle. Both remarkable stories of refugees turned law and policymakers in two of the most prosperous and influential nations in the world leave Somalis everywhere with much to celebrate as it has raised their country’s profile and shone a positive light on the contribution of their countryfolk to their new homes. However, these successes will be nothing more than small ripples in a vast ocean unless the Diaspora work closely with other groups to increase their influence and impact, especially, in key policy areas and in political arenas that will shape their future and that of their mother nation.

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Changing the narrative on Somalia is fundamental for peace, progress and prosperity. Yet, in a period of fragile national recovery, this most important task relies on a delicate balancing act between Somali Government progress and Diaspora actions both at home and abroad. This partnership’s centrality is only now coming to light and must prove itself in an age of great uncertainty and fear as was illustrated by the most recent US Visa and travel ban on people from Somalia and six other Muslim countries.

The US Visa ban for seven Muslim nations, including Somalia, on the grounds of national security initiated by President Trump’s executive action, truly angered most Americans and people across the world, including the Somali Diaspora. Global Somali Diaspora (GSD) released a timely statement advocating for its immediate withdrawal on the grounds of discrimination and ineffectiveness against terrorism. To this day, the legality of the executive order is disputed between the White House and the Judiciary and those who were unable to come to the US despite having visas are now making their way amid confusion and fear. While this misfortunate event needs thorough political and legal examination, there is a key lesson for the affected nations Diaspora to take from it.

The Diaspora are deservingly celebrated for their role as Ambassadors, bridge-builders and agents of change both in their old and adopted homes. This is true but is often only framed from the perspective of either individual or collective action focused purely on one country despite the diversity of issues affecting many others. This sense of nationalism inherent in most Diaspora actions is welcome to some extent but for Diaspora actions to have greater impact in a globalised world, there needs to be an accommodation of cross national Diaspora partnerships.

The best modern evidence for the need for cross national Diaspora partnerships is the US Visa ban itself. This is because the seven-affected nation’s Diaspora both in the USA and across the world, in partnership with civil society organisations, all lobbied against the ban but alone and only defending their own countries. While this on the surface appears to have worked, its key shortcoming is that the fundamental issue of these states designation by the Trump administration as either sponsors of terrorism or countries of concern, still lingers on.

The best appropriate action for the Diaspora groups of the seven affected states is to get together, share knowledge about one another’s countries, community and successes and challenges. Then they can draw up an effective advocacy and engagement action plan regarding terrorism and their respective communities in the USA and, in partnership with civil society and their political representatives, confront the ban in an organised and united manner which draws on their collective strength and voice.

In an age of multilevel policymaking and fast changing political realities on the ground centred on key themes like security and investment, cross national Diaspora partnerships must be taken more seriously by the Diasporas of the world, Governments and the international community.

Cross national Diaspora partnerships have the potential to unite different groups facing the same challenges both in their mother country and adopted homes, streamline solutions to global challenges such as development financing and strengthen bonds between people whose destinies are intertwined. These policy and advocacy coalitions can be in areas as vast and diverse as education, religion and citizenship so long as they unite the Diaspora’s of different nations facing the same challenges. 

 In the crucial area of peace and security it is not always feasible to just rely on Government’s to silence the guns as often pressure from a united and diverse Diaspora can also make peace possible.

 Where Governments are hampered by posturing and diplomatic practices and customs, the Diaspora groups have no redlines and are free to engage constructively to bring about peace and cross border development and investment. These simple actions also have the great potential to bring hostile government’s closer together to cooperate on the bigger issues that affect them both.

Global organisations such as the UN, the African Union and League of Arab States have all made the case for Diaspora involvement in international security, development and investment. However, the African Union has been active in establishing and consolidating the African Diaspora Programmes and Networks globally. Currently, the Union is working with the League of Arab States to develop Diaspora networks in the Middle East where a vast number of African migrant workers reside.

In the case of Somali Diaspora and those from the other seven affected states, a key simple joint action to benefit from the above could be to collectively draft a letter through their individual national Embassies in the USA requesting their voices be recognised and supported by their Government’s both at the African Union and the League of Arab States of which they are all members of one or the other. This simple action will no doubt bring a great amount of political pressure to bear on President Trump’s administration from two continents and increase the influence of the seven Diaspora both in the US and their home nations.

The Somali Diaspora are truly playing a transformative role in Somalia’s steady progress in all fields. However, cross national partnerships and cooperation with their Government and brothers and sisters at home, will make their actions and impact more effective and powerful.

Liban Obsiye is a senior adviser to the Somali Foreign Minister.
[email protected]   & @Libanobsiye (twitter)
Sakariye Hussein is a member of the Senior Management team of Global Somali Diaspora.
[email protected] & @Iamzakariye (twitter)

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