Mogadishu — Ahmed Jama, the owner of The Village restaurants in Mogadishu, has made it his mission to encourage Somalis from the diaspora to return home and establish businesses in Somalia.
Jama, 50, returned from Britain in 2010 to open his restaurant, which now has four branches across the capital.
Al-Shabaab targeted The Village restaurant in Hamar Weyne district on September 7th in a car bomb and suicide attack that killed at least 30 civilians and wounded 50. It was al-Shabaab's second deadly attack on the restaurant in just under a year.
Some of Jama's other restaurants have also been targets of terrorist attacks.
Yet Jama said he will not back down.
In an interview with Sabahi, Jama said he will continue to operate his restaurants despite the security threats. He also encouraged more Somalis from the diaspora to join him, saying that creating job opportunities for Somalis will help eliminate terrorism.
Sabahi: Where were you during last week's attack?
Ahmed Jama: I was at the restaurant during the explosion. We were working when we suddenly heard a huge blast. We were stunned by the blast that followed, after that everyone started running away.
Sabahi: Were any employees of the restaurant killed or hurt in the attack?
Jama: Yes, a member of the cleaning staff was killed. May God have mercy on his soul. He had survived an attack last year in the same restaurant. No one else [from the staff] was hurt in the attack, thanks to God.
Sabahi: In addition to The Village in Hamar Weyne, other locations you own have been attacked as well. Why do you think you have become a target?
Jama: I do not know why I am being targeted. I think it is part of the problems facing the nation as a whole, [caused by] people who are against development. I have no idea what they gain from these attacks.
Sabahi: Al-Shabaab's spokesperson has accused you of having ties to British intelligence. Why do you think that is?
Jama: I have no relationship with British intelligence and this statement has no roots in reality. I was truly surprised when I heard that. I do not work with anyone. I am a Somali citizen who has returned to his country wanting to help the people of Somalia with my knowledge.
Sabahi: What was your occupation in Britain?
Jama: I studied culinary arts, which is what I do everywhere I am. I lived in Britain for more than 20 years and did not have any occupation aside from cooking food.
Sabahi: What made you come back at a time when security is still tenuous?
Jama: I came back to the country in the beginning of 2010. My aim was to show Somalis in the diaspora that they can come back to the country and invest in it. I only had one restaurant at the time. Now I have four restaurants, some of which are located on the beaches of Mogadishu, such as at Jazeera and Lido beaches.
Sabahi: What are you planning now that your life is in danger and you have faced many difficulties with the businesses you established in Mogadishu? Will you give up and go back to Britain?
Jama: No, there is no way that I will stop my work because I want to share my cooking skills with the Somali public even though Somali men believe that cooking is work that is exclusive to women.
I even want to extend my business and skills to the other cities in Somalia, so there is no chance of me leaving the country.
Sabahi: What would you tell the Somali diaspora?
Jama: I would say your country needs you. Come back so people can benefit from the skills and economic resources you can bring back.
I have many people working for me who were previously unemployed. Unemployment will decrease if people in the diaspora come back and invest. This would also decrease the number of youths who are used to carry out hostile attacks.
Sabahi: Are you afraid patrons will stay away due to the fear of being harmed in further attacks?
Jama: It is a reality that some people will not come to the restaurant due to fear, but it is also true that each person has a day of death that will neither be put off nor hastened. This is what I believe.