Man left family and comfort in the US to help reconstruct motherland
Posted by Administrator on March 3, 2012
The scene was just what you would expect on a quiet evening in suburban Milwaukee. Mohamoud Farah Egal, a social services worker, was seated in one room with one of his sons, Mohammed, 12, helping him with his homework.
Across the room, Mohammed’s younger siblings Hussein and Aisha were watching television.
Suddenly the patriarch heard the two children in front of the TV shouting: “Daddy! Daddy! Come and see what your people are doing!”
“I went over to check what was on television and found they were watching a documentary about the (American-led) Operation Restore Hope in Baidabo, Somalia in the 1990s. Baidabo in the show was described as the “City of Death”. On the screen were images of children dying of starvation and others that had been caught in the crossfire of the fighting in the country. I turned to my children and said, ‘these are your people, too”. But they retorted, ‘No! Dad, we are Americans. These are your people.’”
Mr Egal was stunned. “It was very painful. The children I am raising felt they were not part of my community. They were growing up thinking they are not African. I made the decision to come back to my country and make a contribution in 2006. Since then I have been back here.”
Mr Egal told this story at his office in a newly constructed building at the Aden Abdulle Airport in Mogadishu, where he now serves as Deputy Director General of the Somalia Civil Aviation Authority. In many ways, Mr Egal’s life story mirrors that of many Somalis who like him came of age in the 1960s when Somalia achieved independence.
His is a story of displacement and dislocation, confusion over identity and the ever present conflict over clan and nationalism which cost him his job.
Mr Egal was a fighter pilot in the Somalia Air Force and, he says, a proud patriot. He recalls with nostalgia how he flew one of the first missions into Ethiopia during the Somalia-Ethiopia war in 1977.
Things changed after the war. An officer, Col Cabdullaahi Yuusuf Axmed, led a failed coup against Mohammed Siad Barre.
The result was a purge of the army to rid the military of nearly all members of the sub-clan to which the failed coup leader belonged.
By the accident of his birth, Major Egal was one of those caught up in the operation and he was barred from flying. He fled the country and joined the opposition in Ethiopia before they were expelled from there. He then found his way to the US after a short stint in Kenya.
Mr Egal landed a job as a translator at a social services centre and earned a degree at the University of Minnesota.
He was comfortable in the US until his children’s words stung him into action. “I came back because I felt guilty. I was associated with people who created the problem. Both the government and the opposition are to blame for the mess in Somalia and we have to give back what my generation destroyed.”
Mr Egal has seen many changes since the time when he arrived back, when the Transitional Federal Government was nestled in a small corner of Baidoa while militants and warlords controlled the rest of the country. But he had to take time to adjust to the new environment.
“Baidoa was an emergency refuelling stop for the Air Force. It was a beautiful, peaceful land. The people were very friendly. When I came back in 2006 Baidoa was not there. What was there was a carcass. Historic buildings had been destroyed and the law and order situation was very bad. A people who had been very friendly in the 1970s and 80s had become hostile. The environment changed the people. After 20 years of war and death, the people had to be affected psychologically. Human beings are animals. If you put an animal in a cage and treat it to a non-stop barrage of deaths and abductions, it will change. Humanity goes out of the window.”
People are crazy
Mr Egal’s shock did not last long. “When I came to Mogadishu and Baidoa, I was saying to myself these people are not normal. They are crazy. After a few months I felt the people are normal. That means I am crazy, too. I had rationalised and accepted the environment. Just like a tree, if you bend it one way it grows like that. The aftermath of war is worse than war.”
Mr Egal is happy to see that Mogadishu is slowly coming back to life and there is a glimmer of hope for the future. Above all, though, he is happy that as his children have grown older they have forgiven him for abandoning them in the US and began appreciating their homeland.
“They are changing. They have learnt Somali and they call frequently to ask how Mogadishu is. I know I have been a bad, absent dad. But I tell them they are privileged to have got an education in the US and I hope one day they will play a part in the reconciliation efforts here.”
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