By Mukhtar Ibrahim, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Kids who play soccer in Mogadishu know what to do when a fight breaks out near their playground. “We will lie flat on the ground and then start playing right away when the fighting stops,” said Hussein Elmi, 23, who grew up in Somalia’s troubled capital city and came to Minnesota three years ago. Everyone was used to the fighting, and nearly everyone had a gun.
“Carrying a gun is part of your dress,” said Mohamed Ali, another Mogadishu native, and now a senior at the University of Minnesota. “You don’t go out without a gun.” Ali and Elmi are part of a generation of Somali-born youth left with a dark legacy of unresolved conflict stemming from a civil war that has disrupted their lives. Twenty years ago today, on Jan. 26, 1991, Somalia’s central government collapsed after rival clans ousted President Mohamed Siad Barre from power. Somalia today remains at war with itself and young Somali refugees across the globe have only known their homeland as a failed state.
"Carrying a gun is part of your dress ... you don't go out without a gun."- Mohamed Ali, University of Minnesota
Although about 15 national reconciliation conferences have been held outside Somalia, none has succeeded. And there is still a question mark over the chances of peace for the people of Somalia. Since the war started, the country has continued to spiral downward, every year ending with the specter of another year of bloodshed. “It is really painful to see Somalia right now without peace,” said an emotional Ali, staring into his coffee cup. “When you sit and think about it, you really feel deep pain.”
Born in 1980, Ali has a story shared by many of his generation. He finished high school in 2001, at the height of the conflict in Mogadishu and then fled to Egypt in 2002 where he studied agriculture at Cairo University. Ali said he struggles with flashbacks related to his experiences from Mogadishu. His generation inhabits two different worlds. In one world, their childhood country still exists in their memories, and in the current one, they’ve started new lives in foreign countries.
“There is no connection between me and my childhood,” Ali said. “There are a lot of potholes in between.” “In Somalia, the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning is [your] security,” Ali said. “Everything else pales in comparison. And here in Minnesota, the first thing you think about is how to be someone valuable in the community, how to do well in school and how to build your life.”
An undocumented number of people have died in Somalia of warfare, starvation, famine and diseases. Many others escaped to neighboring countries as refugees. Some, like Elmi and Ali, found their way to Minnesota, home to the largest Somali-American community. Elmi said he never dreamed of leaving Somalia. He finished his primary school there, enjoyed playing soccer in the numerous playing grounds in Mogadishu, and would have liked to continue his education in the troubled capital.