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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.

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A former British protectorate, Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 when former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted, plunging the Horn of Africa country into anarchy.

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Thousands of people left the north during Mr. Barre's reign. He bombed Hargeisa to crush antigovernment forces in 1988, killing thousands of people.

Some refugees began to return in the mid-1990s.

Officials say the returnees now number in the thousands, with Somalis from other regions also attracted here by the relative stability.

Slightly larger than England and Wales, Somaliland has enjoyed relative peace and prosperity and has held democratic elections, with a presidential vote scheduled for next year.

In a move to lure refugees home, the administration has introduced tax waivers on new investments to fuel more growth.

Despite its poverty, Somaliland and the region offer investment opportunities for those brave enough to return.

Half of Somaliland's cabinet and lawmakers are former refugees who came back mainly from Europe and America. Former refugees have also become small-factory owners or created businesses, for example, in telecommunications.

Ibrahim has even bigger dreams: he wants to fashion future leaders. "We don't have leaders in our country but we have managers. Our aim is to produce visionary leaders in future who can bring back hope and amalgamate our people. There is a huge appetite for such leadership and we hope to be the source," he said.

Ibrahim and his friends used their savings to start building the university. After they opened, they won grants from Islamic banks and institutions, mainly from Gulf states.

He estimated they had so far spent nearly $500,000. The grants help fund the day-to-day running of the university, including paying staff salaries.

Ugandan, Kenyan, and Asian lecturers provide tutorials in the the university, which offers master degrees and PhD courses, in conjunction with Malaysia Open University. Around 500 students pay an average of $450 per semester.

"Diasporas are the heart of our economy," said Mahamud Jiir, the mayor of Hargeisa. "We now waive tax ... to encourage more diaspora investment. The economy is built on them. They are our lifeline," he said, referring both to those who return and those who send money back.