Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre made a historic visit to Minnesota on Sunday, delivering a resounding message of hope and a renewed sense of optimism to the Somali American community in the Twin Cities.
"Somalia has a stable government now," Barre told a crowd of about 1,600 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Bloomington. "If we don't have a stable government, we cannot work on improving security issues and other challenges the country faces."
Barre, who took the stage around 11:15 p.m. and spoke for about an hour, used his first visit to Minnesota — home to the largest Somali population in the United States — to mobilize members of the local community.
He talked about the progress his country has made, emphasizing that Somalia's security has improved greatly in the past year. And he urged the Somali diaspora to return to their home country to invest and contribute to the movement against al-Shabab, the terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda.
Somali Americans, particularly those in Minnesota, are considered a backbone in the rebuilding efforts of the war-ravaged East African country. More than two dozen Somali Americans belong to Somalia's parliament, and a growing number have returned in recent years.
"We want you to be a leader in the fight against al-Shabab," Barre said. "Al-Shabab is the number one, two and three enemy of Somalia."
Barre's visit to Minnesota followed his recent meetings with world leaders, including United Nations Secretary General António Guterres in New York last week. In his address Saturday to the U.N. General Assembly, Barre talked about his government's progress and its ongoing fight against the militants. He appealed for full debt relief and increased international assistance to bolster Somalia's fight against global challenges, particularly climate change.
The prime minister also urged the U.N. Security Council to lift the international arms embargo imposed on Somalia during its civil war in the 1990s, as the country works to eliminate al-Shabab and rebuild its national army to improve security.
Backed by U.S. and African Union forces, Barre said the Somali government has declared "all-out war" against the militants who had long controlled large swaths of the country and killed tens of thousands of people in suicide bombings over the years.
To dismantle the group's financial networks and combat its extremist ideology, the Somali government has vowed to shut down access to some social media platforms such as TikTok and Telegram and enlisted the help of local residents in al-Shabab strongholds, liberating more than 45% — at least 80 regions — in less than a year.
The government has implemented national ID cards as part of its strategy to enhance security and address terrorism issues. Those efforts are being hailed as the most aggressive offensive launched against the terrorist organization in more than a decade.
Amid terrorism challenges, Somalia also is grappling with a pressing humanitarian crisis and enduring tribal divisions that have given rise to autonomous regions, each with their own identity and governance.
"If we want to be an effective country, we need to stop tribalism and corruption," Barre told the Bloomington audience. "It will only divide us."
'No longer complacent'
The local Somali community of about 91,000 according to the latest Census data has a longstanding tradition of welcoming Somali government officials to the state, but Barre's visit marked the first time a sitting Somali prime minister has come to Minnesota.
Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has visited Minnesota twice, most recently in December. Mohamud tapped Barre, a former chair of the Jubbaland state election commission, to serve as prime minister in June 2022.
Before his speech, Barre met Sunday afternoon with Gov. Tim Walz and other officials, including St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. He was expected to return to Somalia on Monday.
On Sunday night, Barre was accompanied by a delegation of high-ranking officials from Somalia, including Minister of Health Dr. Ali Haji Adan. Local elected officials also participated to show their support and celebrate collaboration between Minnesota and Somalia.
In his speech, Barre touted his government's coordinated efforts alongside the locals in rooting out terrorists. He emphasized Somalia's commitment to strengthening alliances with the international community, particularly the Somali diaspora, to address global challenges.
"We are no longer complacent," Barre said. "We will bring the strong and brave Somalia back."
The crowd erupted in cheers, chanting and waving Somali and U.S. flags.
Murwo Elmi, 36, of Richfield expressed appreciation for the Somali government's efforts to combat terrorism, improve security and address the humanitarian crisis.
"I feel motivated to go back and contribute however I can," said Elmi, an entrepreneur who plans to take medical equipment to Somalia. "I want my people to stop flocking to other countries to seek medical care."
Many left the event saying that Somalia is poised for positive change and a brighter future.
"This is a new beginning for Somalia," said 31-year-old Abdullahi Ahmed, a Kenya native who lives in Minneapolis. "The Somali government has proved and showed us that we can defeat our biggest enemy."