Finland already had a good reputation in the country before refugees ended up in northern Europe. Journalist Wali Hashi found surprising evidence of Finnish influence while travelling in the country recently.
Hashi, a Somali-born Finn, drove to a coastal town a couple of hundred kilometres from the capital, Hargeisa. On his trip, he found a sign warning against travelling at sea because of pirates that was in three languages: Somali, English and Finnish. A bigger surprise was in store on his return journey.
”We came to a small village, and believe it or not the name of the place was ’Suomen kylä’ (Finnish village),” says Hashi. “The whole village’s name was Finland!”
The villagers had given their village the name ’Finland’, because the village’s water supply infrastructure had been built by Finns in the 1980s.
”When I interviewed the villagers, they said that they loved Finland,” adds Hashi.
Democracy Learnt From Finland
Somaliland’s Finland-positive attitude took Hashi by surprise, although he already knew that Finnish Somalis were in prominent positions in Somaliland society.
The parliament’s spokesman and the rector of Hargeisa University are both Finnish citizens, for example, and one of Somaliland’s biggest political parties – Faisal Ali Warabe’s Justice and Welfare party – was born in Helsinki.
Hashi believes that the Finnish experience helped Somaliland avoid a bitter civil war similar to that engulfing the Ivory Coast following last summer’s presidential election. Warabe, who lives in Espoo to the west of Helsinki, accepted his defeat when he came second in the vote.
”One interesting thing Warabe said was that he did not want war or conflict,” says Hashi. “He just wants democracy, which he learnt in Finland.”
Returnees Proud of Their Finnishness
Many of the returnees want to preserve their Finnish culture, he says.
“I’ve spoken to children with their mothers and fathers, and they’ve told me that they are really proud of their identity,” says Hashi.
Hashi, recently named the 2011 'New Citizen of Turku', moved to Finland when he was 17 years old, and is one of the few Finnish Somalis to find work in the Finnish media. He has previously produced stories on pirates in Somalia for YLE, among other topics.