Somalia is calling for you

Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA) is a capacity-building programme implemented by IOM  to strengthen the institutional capacities of African governments to manage and realize their development goals through the transfer of knowledge, relevant skills and financial resources of African diaspora members. The MIDA initiative started in Somalia in 2008 with the first diaspora experts deployed in 2009.

After 23 years in the USA, Mahad Ahmed Abdi heard his calling and found his way back to Somalia through the UN Migration Agency (IOM) Somalia’s Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA) programme. His 2013 temporary assignment became a four-year mission to support the Somali authorities. Mahad’s great work has contributed to Norway officially recognizing all Somali passports effective 01 August 2018.

From Somalia to USA

Mahad, born and raised in Mogadishu, left the city in 1991 to join his family in San Diego, California. After completing his undergraduate degree in California, Mahad moved to Minnesota. With an MBA in International Finance from Hamlin University in Minnesota, Mahad started his career as a banker and moved on to become a financial advisor for the state Government in Minnesota. Despite a successful career, Mahad’s long held desire to help others became increasingly important to him. In 2009, the board of directors of Disabled Immigrant Association, a local NGO, selected Mahad to be the Executive Director.

“Who am I to just sit here and watch the news and not do anything about it?”

But, his desire to help others remained unmet, “there was still something missing”, he recalled. After countless discussions with friends and family, he finally realized– he wanted to give back to Somalia. “I thought to myself, who am I to just sit here and watch the news and not do anything about it?”

The Way Back - Where to Start and What to Do?

“After many years abroad, I did not know where to begin and what to do for Somalia.” So, Mahad began with small steps, starting with a visit in 2012/2013 to the region. “Not only had I not been back to Somalia, I had not returned to the region since I left Mogadishu in 1991.” The trip took him to Nairobi where he reconnected with the region, and investigated ways where to contribute to the development of Somalia.

Following his visit to the region, Mahad felt more determined than ever to move to Somalia and support his country, but he discovered that it was difficult to go back without any real connections on the ground. One evening an internet search led him to the MIDA webpage. Not only was the aim of the MIDA project in line with what he was searching for, there was a position advertised in Somalia. “I thought to myself, there is nothing to lose. I will apply and see what happens. It’s a short term assignment and if I do not like it I can always return home after six months.”

Mahad packed his bags and headed for his new job as the Organizational Management Expert at the Immigration Department in Hargeisa. Despite being “a city that I had never visited before”, Mahad describes that first posting with MIDA as “very interesting, meaningful, exciting and inspiring but it was tough to be away from my family, I have to admit”. After the six month assignment, he did not know if he could bear to be away from his family again.

Back in Minnesota, Mahad reflected on this for nine months. His desire to go back to Somalia emerged again, this time even stronger. By chance or destiny, a similar position was advertised but this time based in Mogadishu. “This is my call. I have to take this opportunity if I get it,” he thought, and, he certainly did.

November 2014, it was time for take-off. Direction - Mogadishu. Mahad noted, “The start was tough with the limitation of movement, insecurity, and frequent attacks”. But the unconditional love and support from his family, and all the courageous and knowledgeable people he worked with and met in Somalia gave him the energy he needed to push through.

“There are close to 3 million people in this city without the possibility of going to a safe zone. How am I different? If they can do it, i can do it. I am not alone.”

Mahad is still working in Mogadishu and has been promoted to the Senior Advisor at the Ministry of Internal Security’s Immigration and Naturalization Directorate (IND). Together with IND staff, and with support of IOM, Mahad developed the IND’s Five-Year Strategic Plan, drafted the Directorate’s Human Resource Policy and organogram, trained nearly 100 immigration officers both locally and throughout Somalia, connected the IND with the international community, and raised funds that will contribute to the construction of Immigration Directorate HQ. “I am proud of the institution and the work that we have achieved so far. We are now working towards a common goal. It is a team effort and not something that I could have achieved on my own.”

“My work is still not done. My biggest goal at the moment is for all Somali passports to be recognized internationally.”

Recognition of Somali passports

Mahad and his colleagues at the IND are currently working towards getting international recognition for Somalia’s passport. This resulted in official recognition of all Somali passports by the Kingdom of Norway, effective of 01 August 2018. The Somali diplomatic passport is now increasingly recognized, but much work remains to be done for all Somali passports to be accepted worldwide. Nine European countries have recognized the Somali passport so far, with Norway being the only Nordic country.


Mahad Ahmed Abdi assignment with the MIDA programme was possible thanks to the funding of The Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security (Norway).