Rochester man works as government spokesman in Somalia

abdi55_mug.jpgA Somali-American community organizer from Rochester has returned to his homeland to work as a spokesman for its embattled government.

Abdifatah Abdinur, 33, went back to a war-ravaged Mogadishu that looks a lot different than the capital city he fled 20 years ago.

“It’s like you’re living in a video game. The city has been destroyed very badly,” he said. “But my expectations were so low about everything — life, the security. I find out the city doesn’t want to die, and people are trying to stay alive and go about their everyday business.”

Abdinur lived in Rochester since 1995 and directed a nonprofit to help immigrants. Over the past two years, he helped me with translation and other issues on numerous stories. The U.S. citizen returned to Mogadishu April 12 to take the job of communications director for the federal Ministry of Information, which is like the official press office of the Somali government.

Abdinur is not the only expat from Minnesota to return to Somalia in hopes of rebuilding a distant homeland. The minister of information who recruited him is a former IT guy who hails from the Washington, D.C., area. And Somalia’s new prime minister returned last fall from the suburbs of Buffalo, N.Y., according to NPR.

The last time Abdinur was on the streets of Mogadishu, he was 13. Somalia was on the brink of civil war. That war is still raging, with the hard-line Islamic group al-Shabaab trying to defeat a weak government that only controls portions of its capital city.

“When night comes, it’s hard to sleep sometimes,” Abdinur said. “You hear all these gunshots and stuff. But the local people are used to it. Yes, it’s a war zone. Things are hard, but it’s not as horrible as people say.”

Abdinur is living in a guesthouse near the presidential compound. It’s in a protected area that’s generally safer than in other parts of Mogadishu. Still, Abdinur says he generally doesn’t feel comfortable going out at night for a sandwich or a cup of coffee.

He left behind his wife and five kids, who now live in Charlotte, N.C., close to his wife’s family.

One of his projects is to help resurrect a government news agency that he hopes will educate the world about the most pressing needs in Somalia, such as educational opportunities. He’ll spend the next couple of months hiring new staff for the agency. Its website is available in English and Somali.

He could return as early as this summer — or stick around a little longer.

“I could have stayed back home with everything I need — my family, my job and peace,” Abdifatah said. “But I know that if people from the diaspora who have education and skills don’t come back, this country will never return to normal.”

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