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Former refugees launch university in Somaliland

Drawn by better governance and investment opportunities, Africans across the diaspora are increasingly returning to their home countries.

By Hussein Ali NurReuters, Guled MohamedReuters / August 12, 2008


Almis Yahye Ibrahim remembers when he and his friends hit on the idea of building a university in one of the world's most neglected corners, the breakaway republic of Somaliland.

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It was the winter of 1997, and they were hanging out in Helsinki's cafes, keeping the Finnish winter at bay. That's when they dreamt up the International Horn University.

Four years ago, armed with diplomas and savings and driven by a desire to make a difference, the three men and another friend who had been in Malaysia returned home to build their dream. The towering university now stands in Somaliland's hilly capital Hargeisa.

"We had better lives and jobs in Europe," said soft-spoken Mr. Ibrahim, the university's president.

"It was not an easy decision to leave all that and return to a totally destroyed country wrecked by civil war."

Ibrahim left in the 1980s and first went to Egypt before ending up in Finland. Of his friends, another also fled Somaliland while the two others are from Somalia.

Investments by returning refugees provide a lifeline to millions in Somaliland, which does not receive any direct foreign aid as it is not recognized internationally.

This trend of Africans returning home to do business is taking tentative hold in several sub-Saharan countries.

As nations shake off war, adopt better governance, and cash in on a commodities boom, former refugees and other members of the African diaspora are coming back, drawn by patriotism and investment opportunities in a region which the International Monetary Fund expects to grow by 6.5 percent this year.

In Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and elsewhere, these returning nationals are using skills acquired abroad and local knowledge to do business.

"The returnees have transformed Somaliland," said Abdullahi Ali, who drives a taxi for a returning refugee in Hargeisa.