Lessons for Somalis in Papa Faal

Papa Faal is a naturalized American of Gambian origin. He served in the American Airforce and lived in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota until arrested on new-year’s day in 2015 for participating attempted coup in Gambia.

U.S. Attorney in Minnesota charged Faal violating the Neutrality Act which prohibits Americans to bear arms against a foreign nation which is not deemed hostile by U.S. government. The purpose of the act is to ensure American citizens don’t pursue separate foreign policy than that of the federal government. Faal is facing possible 63 months imprisonment.

Faal shares a lot of similarities with Somalis. Many Somalis are naturalized citizen like him. Somalis maintain strong political connection to original homeland as Faal. Thus, Faal’s story has valuable lessons for Somalis in Minnesota.

Often times Somalis get involved Somalia's politics and economy without considering the legal ramifications. No matter at what level one chooses to be involved of Somalia's affairs, the possibility of contributing armed struggle or becoming involved a bribery is very likely.

Somalis in Minnesota raise funds for political activities in Somalia. Some of those funds are used to acquire fire arms and bribery by the recipients. Prosecutors in Minnesota could use other laws to imprison fundraisers.

Among the laws prosecutors could apply is International Traffic Arms Regulation (ITAR) which prohibits transfer and facilitation of fire arms to entities outside U.S. without proper license. Violators could be fined or jailed or both.

Another law is the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). This federal law prohibits U.S. citizens from given, receiving and facilitating all forms of bribery. Somalia tops the list of most corrupt nations thus exposing Somalis to serious risk of violation.

U.S. Attorney in Minnesota and other law enforcement agencies are currently focusing stopping terrorism activities specially recruitment of Somali-American young men by Al-Shabaab and ISIS in the Middle East. The priority is to make sure these young men do not come back and cause harm.

Charging Somalis with ITAR and FCPA appears to be no high priority and probably will remain low priority in the foreseeable future. But the laws are in the books and could be enforced at the discretion of federal agencies in the future.

It goes without saying U.S. attorneys change with elections since appointed by the president. Some serve under multiple presidents. Others resign as soon as new president is elected. The next U.S. attorney in Minnesota could make enforcement of ITAR and FCPA a priority changing the paradigm for Somalis.

The ultimate lesson in Papa Faal’s story for Somalis is the depth of naiveté. The thought that an ad hog group of expats can unleash a revolution in former homeland is a fiction found in fantasy novels. The notion that a spark is all that’s needed to rescue a society from chaos and brutal subjugation is false. It almost always ends with object failure. The only result is dictators and thugs unleashing more brutality on society.

A more effective approach is to build grassroots support working with duly elected representatives and bring about the desired change.

Imagine for a moment, Minnesota's Somali community that's organized and mobilized with sufficient resources at hand? It could bring any desired change through U.S. federal government. Unfortunately, it's hard to imagine that happening with current level of division in the community mirroring Somalia.

Despite the imported problems from Somalia, opportunity and hope for brighter future are real.

Unemployment in Minnesota is the lowest in years. Companies of both big and small are hiring.

The 2015 state legislative session is in progress in St. Paul. An odd year means the biennium state budget is being appropriated as of this writing.

Governor Dayton released his proposed budget. In it, Dayton is doubling down on early education to address the critical issue of achievement gap. Governor Dayton proposed budget includes nearly $35 million for mental health.

These are positive and tangible opportunities Somalis in Minnesota could capitalized. These opportunities serve great barometers to shift civic involvement from Somalia to Minnesota. A shift of focus that could end a perpetual disappointment and usher in new era of hope. If one is unable to shift focus, at least consult with an attorney and make sure risks of violating ITAR and FCPA are mitigated.