Somalia leader visits Minn. amid US recognition

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia speaks during a news conference with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after meetings at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 17, 2013.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

By KYLE POTTER, Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A day after the U.S. officially recognized Somalia's government for the first time in two decades, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was set to ask thousands of Somalis in Minneapolis on Friday to help rebuild their country.

Mohamud was scheduled to speak Friday night at Minneapolis Convention Center during his visit to Minnesota, home to the largest Somali population in the U.S.

Omar Jamal, first secretary of the Somali Mission to the United Nations, said the support of the international community will help bring stability to a country once "on the brink of collapse." Over time, he hopes Somali-Americans in Minnesota will feel secure enough to return home.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement with Mohamud on Thursday marked a new beginning for the war-torn country and its diaspora across the United States. Recognition will help Somalia receive greater aid from U.S. and international agencies.

"After 23 years, Somalia is back in the world community," said Saeed Fahia, executive director of the Confederation of the Somali Community in Minnesota. "After all these years of fighting and drought ... we will be able to work toward rebuilding."

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Jamal, who traveled with Mohamud to Washington, D.C., said the president will call on the Somali community in Minnesota to return to Somalia to help rebuild the country.

In her announcement with Mohamud on Thursday, Clinton said times have changed, citing the militant group al-Shabab's retreat from every major Somali city. The U.S. provided $780 million to African forces to help that effort.

Minnesota is home to about 32,000 people of Somali descent, according to a 2011 estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Authorities say more than 20 young Somali men have left Minnesota since 2007 to join al-Shabab, a U.S.-designated terrorist group linked to al-Qaida. A Minneapolis man was convicted in October of helping funnel young men from Minnesota to Somalia to join al-Shabab.

Roda Rabi, who helped a protest of the president's visit, guessed that more than 10,000 Somalis would attend the event, but she said many are unhappy with Mohamud's tenure since being elected in September.

Rabi said that despite his promises, Mohamud has failed to follow the United Nations' plan for Somalia's reconciliation.

Jamal said the president will try to meet with any protesters in Minneapolis to discuss their concerns.

Fahia said it's too early to judge the new president. Too much has happened in the past two decades to be solved in a matter of months, he said.

"It would be difficult for any human being to take on Somalia's problems," he said.