London 360 – International Somali Awards

The Somali community have been in London from as early as 1914 and arrived in three distinct waves of migration:

  • Recruits for the First World War.
  • Economic and academic migrants, they came to UK for the sea trading opportunities and settled in docking areas such as East London, Cardiff and Liverpool.
  • Refugees escaping the civil war in Somali between 1991 and 2001.

Wednesday 23rd March 2016 saw the launch of the inaugural International Somali Awards hosted in London; honouring the greatest achievements of the worldwide Somali community and a chance for Somali’s across the globe to unite and be recognised.

The International Somali Awards were sponsored by the Anti Tribalism Movement (ATM). Many of the civil conflicts in Somalia, they believe, were due to Tribalism and they now fight to abolish this. In many Sub Saharan African countries the tradition and heritage of tribes is common, in some ways it is similar to the Scottish and Welsh clans. Your tribe is determined by your family name and the families you descend from .The tribes in Somali are the names of the original people and their descendants. Tribalism is when you are judged because of the tribe that they are from, for example, if you tribe is smaller and has little influence you could be judged.

The award ceremony was beautifully organised. Guests were being greeted and guided to the red carpet and through to the reception area for drinks and socialisingwith other guests. The ceremony itself was opened by barrister Hashi Mohamed, who then concluded with words from the Prime Minister David Cameron. In the Prime Ministers speech the community were praised for building “successfullives and raising their own children to be proud British citizens, while often maintaining strong links to their homeland and a deep sense of pride in their heritage”

Guests were also treated to live entertainment with music from Aar Maanta & his band and Maryam Mursal. Before the closing speeches an inspiring poem from Huda Khalif was also delivered, highlighting the “need to be given enough space to grow to become the person that you need to become”.

Not only do the awards allow the Somali community so celebrate their own achievement it also helps to dispel some of the stereotypes that people have about the community. Speaking to Ramla Warfa, a volunteer for Mind, she explained that there are “a lot of negative stereotypes, things like Somalis are pirates and live on benefits and they don’t work hard.” She finds these “very offensive I am not lazy and neither are my parents, we have been hard working, I have gone to school and I give back to the community.” We also spoke to Baah Hersi, a teacher, who discussed how language can be a barrier. “When you first come to the country and do not have the command of the English language you are assumed to be unintelligent but that is not the case. Many people came here with skills, but because of the lack of language they could not transfer these skills over, and I think that is a missed opportunity.”

In addition to stereotypes, some members of the community also have to combat the idea of identity. In the past there has been confusion between ethnicity (African) and religion (Muslim). Abira Husseien, a project support worker for All Change Art, described how “the diaspora community doesn’t feel completely at home. They see you as brown faced and not indigenous to the Country. But if you go back home and having not lived there you are not seen as part of the community you have an accent when you speak or you don’t speak the language. You have different experience and they still see you as a foreigner.

Having spoken to the different guests and members of the community is it clear that the younger generation are now being more prominent in the community. A guest at the awards described it as “the new generation in the Somali community are trying to integrate more” and it is suggested that this is because they have less challenges compared to their parents and grandparents. Abukar Awale, from the Qaad-Diid Campaign, expressed how “Khat was segregating Somali community from society, but now we are integrating more; the biggest barrier has been lifted as a result of the Khat Ban.” Khat is a drug in the form of plant that can be chewed; the drug was made illegal in 2014.

A sense of pride amongst all the generations was strong. Jama Nuur, nominee for Highest Educational Achiever talked about the emergence of role models, having a “specific person that you can try to imitate and relate to; it is much easier than when you look at Barack Bama or someone from a distance.”

When presenting Most Effective Initiative of the Year, Mohammed Adow (Aljazeera Correspondent) showed his pride and expressed how “Its nights on occasions like this that I am most proud to call myself Somali”.

In one of the final speeches from Hanna Yusuf, her lasting message was “worldwide Somali community we need people like you the problem solves risk takers and innovators who understand the complexities faced by the Somali people to be at the forefront of whatever conversation there is about the community”

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