Once controlled by the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab, the port city of Mogadishu is more than just the capital of Somalia — it’s also a symbol of reconstruction in an East African country wracked by civil war.
Earlier this week, at the request of six members of the St. Paul City Council, Minnesota’s capital city became a “sister city” to Somalia’s capital city, cementing a relationship decades in the making.
Both St. Paul and Minneapolis have served as a first stop for East African immigrants, among other refugee communities, since the first waves of arrivals in the 1980s and ’90s. Estimates of the Somali population in Minnesota now run from 40,000 to as high as 80,000 Somali-Americans and their descendants.
Council Member Kassim Busuri on Wednesday read a resolution into the public record, formalizing the sister city agreement between the two cities.
Council Member Dai Thao also shared comments, noting that his office has worked on the agreement since 2015.
“This is a united, team effort from everybody,” Thao said.
Bussuri and Thao were flanked by members of Voice of East African Women of USA and the Somali American Resource, who noted that a majority of the Somalis in Minnesota were born in Mogadishu.
They said the East African city, home to about a quarter of the population of Somalia, runs short on basic services such as ambulances and medical care and relies on international aid to rebuild itself.
AT LEAST 11 SISTER CITIES
St. Paul has established at least 11 sister city relationships over the years, cultivating formal agreements with international partners such as Changsha, China; Nagasaki, Japan; Manzanillo, Mexico; and Djibouti City, the capital of the East African nation of Djibouti.
The level of involvement between St. Paul and each city has varied, with some municipalities contributing lasting monuments to St. Paul, and vice versa. In Phalen Park, for instance, the new Xiang Jiang Pavilion — a gift from the city of Changsha — marks the first phase of a 1.2-acre garden called the St. Paul-Changsha China Friendship Garden of Whispering Willows and Flowing Waters.
“There’s nothing binding. It formalizes the conversation,” said Busuri, in an interview Friday. “One of the biggest things is to allow that dialogue with a country that is developing. It’s in the U.S. interest to make sure Somalia is stable. If Somalia is stable, then the Horn of Africa is stable. Minnesota is home to the largest Somali diaspora anywhere in the world.”
Busuri, who was born in Mogadishu, said he began working on the sister city arrangement in 2012, well before he joined the council, when he helped arrange a meeting between a former deputy mayor of Mogadishu and the administration of then-St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
At the time, officials felt Mogadishu needed to regain stability before formalizing a sister city relationship.
Busuri noted that since then, nations have begun re-opening embassies in Mogadishu, and many believe the official census of 2.5 million is outdated and people should be doubled to 5 million or even 6 million residents.
“It’s very diverse. The busiest port in East Africa is located in Mogadishu,” Busuri said.
Abdirahman O. Osman, the mayor of Mogadishu, said in a Tweet on Thursday that he looked forward to meeting with St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter in person, and he appreciated the resolution “twinning the two great cities.”
In addition to Thao and Busuri, the council agreement was sponsored by Council President Amy Brendmoen, Rebecca Noecker, Jane Prince and Mitra Nelson.
The resolution, which was approved 7-0 on Wednesday, states:
“Whereas, there are hundreds of Somali / East African-owned and operated commercial ventures contributing to the socio-economic development of city of St. Paul; and
Whereas, Somalis / East African-Americans have established educational, cultural, and non-profit institutions in St. Paul; and
Whereas, many in St. Paul and throughout Minnesota have familial, linguistic, and entrepreneurial connections with Somalia; and
Whereas, Mogadishu strategically located near the world’s busiest shipping lanes, controlling access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean and the Arabian Peninsula, and serves as a key refueling and trans-shipment center; and
Whereas, Mogadishu is the base of many various foreign Diplomats, African Union, European Union and American military efforts; and
Whereas, a sister city relationship with city of Mogadishu would formalize the existing informal connections between our cities; and
Whereas, building a sister city relationship between Minnesota’s state capitol of St. Paul and Mogadishu, the capitol of Somalia, promises opportunity to explore and cement cultural and educational learning relationship(s);
… Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved by the St. Paul City Council, on behalf of the people of St. Paul, hereby approve the efforts of Voice of East African Women (VEAW) of USA and Somali American Resource to formalize a Sister City Agreement between the cities of St. Paul and Mogadishu, for the purposes of promoting cultural understanding and stimulating economic development between our two cities and nations.”