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For some Somalis, a new threat after war

The repatriation of Somalis is sowing discontent in Mogadishu, with claims of favouritism in public sector hiring.

Last Modified: 02 Sep 2013 06:57
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The cash infusion by the Somali diaspora is much appreciated by some in Mogadishu [AP]

Mogadishu, Somalia - It's just after 11am when a group of more than thirty current and former students of the University of Somalia in Mogadishu gather in one of the student halls on the leafy campus, to discuss what they see as a fresh threat to their futures in the new Somalia - returning Somali diaspora.

The mood in the mural-covered hall is solemn. One by one they take to the podium to share their experiences and ways to overcome this new challenge.

"I believe they have taken our jobs. If it wasn't for them, I would have a job by now," said jobseeker Sadia Mohamed Abdirahman, a 22-year-old who graduated two years ago with a degree in social sciences.

"Everywhere I go they ask if I have a foreign passport. Which passport you hold can be the reason you get a job or not," she added, her passionate voice bouncing off the walls of the sparsely filled hall and eliciting  rapturous applause from everyone in the hall.

With a fragile peace holding in the Somali capital since the ousting of hardline Islamist rebel group al Shabaab, thousands of Somali diaspora, mainly from the West, have flocked back to this city of more than a million people.

Unwelcome exiles

Being in Mogadishu is a downgrade in every sense, in terms of security, leisure and transportation, but I feel it's a sacrifice well worth taking.

Tariq Bihi, former expat from London

On average there are 35 flights landing at Mogadishu's international airport every day, bringing more than six hundred passengers to Somalia's most populous city.

The presence of these new arrivals in the city hasn't gone unnoticed.

"Every time I see another passenger plane flying over the city and landing at Mogadishu airport, I see my job chances decreasing. More diaspora [returnees] means fewer jobs for us," said 21-year-old Abdi Nasir Mohamed, while taking shelter from the midday sun.

Most of those gathered in the student hall say they have no friends or family members in high offices, unlike many of those in the diaspora, to help them get a foot in the door.

More than three quarters of Somali cabinet ministers were previously members of the diaspora, a fact that's not lost on Mohamed. "All these diasporas are getting the jobs because our government is a diaspora government," he said.

Those gathered in the student hall also said that the criteria for hiring new employees for government offices favours those returning from abroad and stops locals from accessing the few public sector jobs that are available.

Charges of favouritism

Hassan Mohamed Elmi is a 27-year-old, third-year business administration student. He thinks the current system of hiring new employees is meant to safeguard the interests of those in the diaspora.

"Asking a local to have five, seven or ten years experience is not fair. We were at war for the past 23 years. It was impossible to have that kind or length of experience," he said.

But returning citizens don't think there is any foul play in how they're getting government jobs.

Most see themselves as risk-takers who are merely here to help their fellow countrymen and get their country back on its feet.

Tariq Bihi moved to Mogadishu two years ago from London to work for the Somali government. He now works for the Ministry of Human Development and Public Services.

"Being in Mogadishu is a downgrade in every sense, in terms of security, leisure and transportation, but I feel it's a sacrifice well worth taking," he said.

That's a view shared by Maluka Abdulkadir, who works in the Office of the Prime Minister. "I left the comforts of Boston and a well paying banking job there to come to Mogadishu and be part of the rebuilding process. I'm here on merit and I'm in it for the long haul," she said.

Seventy-five percent of my clients are Somalis from abroad. All eleven of my staff are locals.

Mohamed Mohamud Sheikh, laundry shop owner

But Bihi admits some of the concerns of the locals are understandable. "Taxi drivers from the West holding senior government posts won't win over many locals, but it is important to stress most of us are here on merit and qualifications," he said.

The Somali government, in office just under a year, doesn't share the same view and strongly denies any favouritism in the way it hires new employees.

"Somalia is for all Somalis. Jobs are only given to Somalis who have the experience and can contribute," Ridwaan Haji Abdiweli, spokesman for the Somali government, told Al Jazeera.

"We cannot prevent a Somali person from getting a government job because they have lived abroad," he added.

Abdiweli also disagrees with the accusation that most of those working in government offices are not locals. "More than 99 percent of government employees are people who have never left Somalia, even for a day. To say the diaspora make up most of the civil service is not true," he claimed.

The city is undergoing a boom unlike any it has experienced in the past two decades - thanks in large part to diaspora dollars.

Rent prices in this seaside city have hit an all-time high. Many of the locals are unhappy and pointing their fingers at the returning Somalis for the record rents being demanded.

Many are forced to move into overcrowded camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), because they can't afford the prices quoted by landlords eager to make quick returns - after suffering through two decades of low rents.

"I was paying $100 a month for a three-bedroom house, including bills. Then a guy from Sweden came and offered to pay my landlord $400 a month, excluding bills," said a frustrated Mohamed Noor from his new one-bedroom, tin-shelter home in an IDP camp in the Hodon district of Mogadishu.

"The only places where we are safe from the diaspora are in the IDP camps. I wish not a single one of them had came back," Noor added.

Diaspora cash is welcome

But not everyone in Mogadishu is anti-diaspora. The business community in particular can't get enough of them - and the dollars they bring with them.

Abdi Rahman Hassan opened Dirshe Car Dealership in downtown Mogadishu three years ago. Two years ago, before Somalis living abroad started returning in large numbers, he sold barely ten cars a month. Things are much different now.

"In a very quiet month I sell at least 20 cars. A car I used to sell for $4,000 two years ago, I now sell for more than $6,000. Almost all my buyers are people who have returned from abroad," Hassan said, beaming with a big smile - and surrounded by second-hand cars imported from Dubai.

The relationship between the diaspora and the locals could be mutually beneficial to both groups.

A five-minute drive from Dirshe's Car Dealership is Mogadishu's only laundry shop - Somali Premium Laundry.

"Seventy-five percent of my clients are Somalis from abroad. All eleven of my staff are locals," said Mohamed Mohamud Sheikh, the laundry's owner.

"It wouldn't have been possible to open this shop without the patronage of the diaspora, and I wouldn't have been able to employ 11 locals. We need each other," he added.

Student Mohamed, however, would rather the diaspora hadn't come back. "There aren't that many opportunities to go around," he said.

"It is best they come when there are enough jobs. The few jobs around here should be left for those who were here during the war."

 

Follow Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa

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Al Jazeera
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