Somalis form council
Rochester man might or might not be part of new political group
By Matthew Stolle
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's Somali community has taken its first steps toward mobilizing itself as a political entity.
A group calling itself the Somali Community Leadership Council convened its first meeting Thursday, saying it wants to become a more coherent voice in state politics. The council is made of 15 members from the Twin Cities area, Rochester, Owatonna, Willmar and Mankato.
According to the new council's chairman, one of the members on the council is Abdullahi Hared, a resident of Rochester and executive director of the Somali Community Resettlement Services. But Hared, in a telephone conversation, disputed his membership, saying he hasn't made any commitment to the council and needs to know more about the organization before he decides to join it.
The council convened its first meeting in a third-floor conference room in the Capitol and, to mark the inaugural event, was addressed by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Attorney General Mike Hatch and a representative of U.S. Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger.
Dahir Mirreh Jibreel, the council's chairman and a social studies teacher in the Twin Cities, said the council will serve in a temporary capacity until a permanent group is selected through "transparent" and "authentic" elections.
There are an estimated 70,000 Somalis in the Twin Cities and 3,000 in Rochester, according to two Somali leaders.
After the first meeting Jibreel acknowledged the challenges in organizing Somalis into a political force.
"No. 1, they are nomadic. No. 2, they don't have the tradition of the democratic process," Jibreel said. He also cited the civil war that has divided the Somali people.
Hared, a 35-year-old Somali-American who has lived in Rochester for the past four years, said he was first notified of his appointment to the council last week. He said he wasn't prepared to be on the council until he knew more about its purpose and mission. He also wants to be certain there is geographical balance on the council.
During the meeting, Jibreel pointed to the irony that a people from a "hot" country like Somalia would choose such a cold state as Minnesota to be their home. He said the reason is that Minnesotans have opened their hearts to the Somali people.
He also emphasized the importance of political organization. He used the 2000 presidential election and the more recent Taiwanese election as examples of when a small number of people can make a difference in an election.