Thursday, May 30, 2019, Ohio State House of Representatives Adam C. Miller of District 17 (D-Columbus) and Erica C. Crawley of District 26 (D-Columbus) introduced a legislation that would establish the Somali-East African Affairs Commission in Ohio, to operate alongside the existing New African Immigrants Commission, NAIC .
In a joint statement, the two representatives said the legislation, Bill 269 was “designed to address the unique challenges faced by these communities and empower them to add to Ohio’s growing diversity.
“Columbus looks very different than it did 20 years ago, and today it would be impossible to picture our great city without the Somali community,” said Miller.
“Columbus is young, vibrant and growing. We are competing in the global marketplace, and Somali immigrants and their families are important reasons for this growth. This Commission will help ensure that their contributions to communities across Ohio remain strong and supported.”
“The Commission would be made up of Ohioans with ethnic, cultural, or economic ties to Somalia or other East African nations.
Quoting the Secretary of State’s office, Representative Crawley noted that, “the Columbus metropolitan area has one of the highest concentrations of Somali refugees in the nation. An estimated 45,000 Somali immigrants have moved to central Ohio in the last decade alone.
“The Somali and East African communities have had immensely positive impacts not only in Columbus, but across the state,” said Crawley.
“However, despite the diversity, talent and economic and cultural benefits they add to Columbus and Ohio, these communities still face discrimination and unique challenges every day. More work must be done to ensure that their needs are met, and I believe creating this Commission is a great first step forward.”
In an interview with the New Americans magazine Representative Adam Miller said the Somali East African Affairs Commission “is informed by our greater willingness to do more when people are in the United States. Our goal is to help.
“In my experience, the more lines of efforts, my experience is informed by the military, by working in the United States military, in my view and my experience, the more efforts we have from different angles the better.
“If there is grant money available, the significant dollar, whether it is from the federal government or state, from foundations or aid groups, I would like to have more than just one commission. Here we have the New African Immigrants Commission and the East African Somali Commission, that gives us a chance to double our money,” he said.
On the non-funding of the New African Immigrants Commission, Rep. Miller said, “I don’t think a lot of my colleagues realized that the African Immigrant Commission was not funded. That surprised people. We told them that we’ve got to fix this. We have to fund this commission and fund the other commission so we can have two budgets, two bites to the apple.”
According to him, “If the Gate Foundation is going to fund Ohio Initiatives, I hope they do, I want to have as many qualified foundation efforts as possible and having two commissions is better than one.’
Reacting to the moves by the House of Representatives’ members, the President/CEO Helping Africans In New Direction (HAND) and Publisher of Somali Link who played a prominent role in advocating for the New African Immigrants Commission, said that “the more people and offices to serve the needy communities out there, the better.
Unlike the NAIC which does not enjoy government funding, Mahdi will want the Somali East African Affairs Commission to be funded.
“The most important is that they need to pass a commission with a budget and offices from the start. This is very important because it is hard to get the funding and personal needed for the office to work after its creation. I am speaking from experience.
On whether other East Africans will share the same aspiration with the name Somali East African Commission, Mahdi noted that “for the last couple of years, the east African countries are somehow becoming one or let me say behaving as one. They also have same common interests. There are millions of Somalis in East African countries as we speak. They feel at home. And they also feel at home with other African countries.
“There is no one commission against the other. We all need to support each other and each commission as well,” he added.
However, Mahdi noted that the most difficult task for a Somali East African Affairs Commission “is if the new commission is going to see the light of the day it must get the full support of the Republicans. Every legislation, especially legislation that is asking money or bigger government, needs to have a full Republican support in Ohio.
“We need at least 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats for this to work or else it is going to die on the floor. This is what happened to me the first time I introduced African commission. I thought Democrats can make it happen, but it was the other way around.”
The Chairperson of the New African Immigrants Commission, Dr Rosaire Ifedi said, “the offices of both sponsors have responded to my requests for meetings which will likely take place this coming week. We are all still working on schedules.
“What would be the point of creating another Commission that already has one that covers the same population; what would be the point of creating another Commission for Africans when the existing one has not been funded?
“A new commission would be wrong-headed since we in Diaspora are trying to bring diaspora together and not further divide Africans. If it helps, East Africans and Somalis are already represented in the NAIC with two Commissioners from Somali and Kenya and numerous others on the five committees of the NAIC,” said Dr Ifedi.
Community leader, representing Tanzanians in the Diaspora in Central Ohio, Jackson Lyimo said, “we never heard of Somali East African Affairs Commission. No one reached out to inform us about the set up. And why not name it Somali Affairs Commission rather than Somali East African Commission? The New African Immigrants Commission should work for Africans in the Diaspora, including those from East Africa.”
The immediate past President of the Nigerians in Diaspora Ohio, Ms. Teresa Edoja said, “The New African Immigrants Commission was established for the sub-Sahara region of Africa. It is wise to have one commission that serves all African countries. Creating a separate commission on Somali and East African Affairs will widen the division that currently exist among Africans in general.”
An alumnus of the New American Leadership Academy and a leader in the Ghanaian community Sam Sark said, “there is a big problem with the nomenclature. Somali is not the whole of East Africa. They can call it Somali Affairs Commission. It does not make sense to call it Somali East African Affairs Commission.”
He noted however that, “for the Somalis, the concept is good. Anytime the Somalis go solo, they achieve faster.”