The Brooklyn Park civil engineer thought hard about the risks before he returned to Somalia last year to help repair the waterworks infrastructure of his war-torn country. On Monday the risks became real when he was murdered.
Even with the dangers, a growing number of Minnesota professionals born in Somalia are going home, for long and short stints, committed to helping stabilize a nation that has teetered on the brink of anarchy for nearly 20 years.
Abdullahi Ali Anshoor, 64, and his wife, Halima Ibrahim, “wanted to give back” said their daughter, Maryan Ali, 30, sitting in the finished basement of the family’s middle-class home in Brooklyn Park.
“They always had a dream of going back. It was their country, they grew up there, went to high school there, had their children there. … They felt it was home. They were passionate about that.”
Anshoor was killed Monday in the capital city of Mogadishu after four armed militants stopped his car and sprayed it with bullets. The Associated Press quoted a police captain saying the killers were members of Al-Shabab, an extremist group. But family members, as well as some Twin Cities Somali leaders, said the description of the shooting raised doubts that it was the work of Al-Shabab; they wondered if had to do with an attempted robbery, contract killing or some other explanation.
“We were very shocked,” said Ali. “He was a very quiet, humble, kind and generous man.”
Sadik Warfa, deputy director of Global Somali Diaspora, based in Minneapolis, works with international organizations to encourage skilled Somalis living in this country to go back and make their services available. He said he knows of about 100 people from Minnesota who have returned since 2012, when Somalia held elections.
He was needed ‘back home’
When he lived in Somalia, Anshoor was an urban planner working on Mogadishu’s sewage systems. Like others in the United States, “he decided his skills were needed back home,” said Warfa. “Compared to what’s it’s been, the country is reasonably safe.”
Fartun Weli, founder and executive director of Isuroon, a Somali women’s health organization in Minneapolis, has been in Somalia recently and will return early next year.
“We are launching a project to reduce the infant mortality rate in Somalia, which is one of the worst in the world,” she said. “Of every 10 moms who gives birth in Somalia, one of them dies.”
She said the people who are going back have college degrees and are being recruited by international nongovernment organizations (NGOs). The returnees are multicultural, they speak the language and they understand the culture and the community, she said. Besides, she said, while the United States government is spending money on weapons to fight terrorism, “the only way to combat terror is to have infrastructure, building schools, creating jobs … creating opportunities.”
‘People loved him’
Somalis from the United States, Canada and Europe are returning in large numbers to work in business, nongovernmental agencies and communications, and many are members of Parliament, said Yusuf Ali, executive director of the Somali Community Relations Council, an organization focused on helping young people successfully integrate into Minnesota.
Among them was Anshoor, who had developed a reputation of helping Somalis settle into this country, he said. “People loved him,” he said.
Anshoor worked as a public housing property manager in St. Paul, according to his daughter. He had an undergraduate degree from Mogadishu University and a master’s degree from California State University at Fresno. As the civil war worsened, he and his family fled the country in 1991, living in Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. His wife moved to Seattle in 1996 and sponsored the rest of the family, who followed her there. They moved to Minnesota in 1999.
Anshoor’s wife returned to Somalia first. Family members worried more about her because she was an outspoken advocate for humanitarian causes.
In September 2013, Anshoor returned to Somalia when the International Organization for Migration asked him to oversee the construction of water systems and act as a liaison between the city of Mogadishu and the organization. He had worked on water systems in Mogadishu before leaving the country and he was a logical hire.
About 500 people attended his burial in Somalia, according to his son, Ayanle Ali, 22.
“My dad was hesitant, because of the security,” daughter Maryan Ali said. But he ultimately decided to go. “He wanted to make a contribution and he liked it there,” she said.
Others encouraged him to get some bodyguards, but he shrugged it off, she said, saying he didn’t need it, it would attract attention and, besides, he was a civilian.