Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud will give a speech at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Thursday evening, returning to the city for the first time since 2014.
Mohamud is among 50 African leaders visiting the United States for a summit hosted by President Biden to improve relationships between the two regions.
The president is expected to address the Somali government’s ongoing battle against Islamist terrorist group al-Shabab, an affiliate of al-Qaida.
“He is more popular now because he waged the war against the terrorist group al-Shabab,” said Hashi Shafi, an organizer of the visit who is executive director of Civic Ark. “For the last 15 years, al-Shabab has held Somalia hostage and I think this is … the beginning of the end for al-Shabab existing in Somalia. He is committed 100 percent to this war.”
The president will also discuss how Somalis face hunger and starvation amid a devastating drought — the United Nations said in September that more than a half-million children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition, and is warning of a looming famine. Al-Shabab is also impeding international aid efforts to stem the food crisis.
Shafi said the president also wants to talk about how Somali Americans can invest in Somalia. The capital of Mogadishu, he noted, is a fast-growing city.
Mohamud last visited Minneapolis in 2014, when he addressed a crowd at Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota. More than 100 protesters demonstrated outside against Mohamud’s policies in Somalia. He served as president between 2012 and 2017 and began a new term in May 2022.
Minnesota is home to the largest Somali diaspora outside of Africa, and organizers expect 2,500 people to attend — though they worry snow will deter some.
“I’m so nervous — the last thing we need is a weather warning,” said Ifrah Abdullahi, an organizer of the event who serves as social services program manager at Somali Community Resettlement Services in Minneapolis.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Council Member Jamal Osman are also expected to speak.
The event is free and open to the public. Abdullahi said the program will start at 6:30 p.m. and the president is expected to speak around 9:30 p.m.