News / Africa

Somali Prime Minister Returns to Previous Job in New York

Somali PM Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, left, announces his resignation during a news conference, alongside Somali President Sharif Sheik Ahmed, right, at the presidential palace in Mogadishu, Somalia (File Photo -, June 19, 2011)
Somali PM Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, left, announces his resignation during a news conference, alongside Somali President Sharif Sheik Ahmed, right, at the presidential palace in Mogadishu, Somalia (File Photo -, June 19, 2011)

Multimedia

Audio

About a year ago, New York State bureaucrat Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed received an invitation to visit Mogadishu, the capital of his native Somalia. He’d been away for more than 20 years, but upon his return, he was offered the job of prime minister. Feeling an obligation to help his homeland, he accepted, despite having few political qualifications and little idea of what lay ahead.

Last January, a weary Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed appeared in front of the United Nations for the first time. As prime minister of a country that has suffered two decades of civil war, he was pressed on how he could stop the spread of terrorism in Somalia or the pirates that prowl along its shores.

“I have been in office for, as a matter of fact, forty-nine days as of today," he said. "And we have been in preparation to strategize when and how we’re going to face our enemies.”

Just three months earlier, Mohamed was in a different office - at his desk at the New York Department of Transportation in downtown Buffalo.

“Until I get a call from Mogadishu to come for an interview with the president," said Mohamed. "Honestly when I went there, I wasn’t thinking I’d be the next prime minister.”

Mohamed’s appointment was a complete surprise, says Somalia scholar Ken Menkhaus, a political science professor at Davidson College in North Carolina.

“Well, my first reaction was to look him up and to learn more about who he was,” he said.

What Menkhaus found was a mild-mannered and soft spoken 48-year old who, despite activism in his local refugee community, was hardly a natural statesman.

Mohamed’s sudden rise to power came after a chance introduction to Somalia’s President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed during his 2009 visit to the United States. Less than a month later, Mohamed was Prime Minister.

And instantly, Menkhaus says, Mohamed’s life was in danger.

"It’s very risky to be in Mogadishu and associated with the government right now," said Menkhaus. "The jihadist movement has used assassination as its principal tools of intimidation. There have been quite a few individuals associated with the government who have been killed.”

This was a far cry from Mohamed’s staid life in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York, where he lives with his wife and four young children.

“Bullets reached my office on many occasions," said Mohamed. "That’s normal. That was normal.”

Despite those risks, Mohamed worked 15-hour days, selected a cabinet that earned international praise, and won some early victories. For the first time in years, he made sure that Somali government soldiers received a salary.

That move has been credited for reduced defections to rebels, he says, and resulted in key military victories.

Mohamed says he drew on his experience in U.S. state government to try to change the culture of Somalia’s notoriously corrupt and dysfunctional system.

“I wanted to bring the good things I learned from here to Somalia," he said. "Everybody should work from 9 to 5 and get paid. And to earn honest living. To work hard. And to be honest.”

His methods made him popular with Somalis. But just nine months into his term, Mohamed was pressured to resign by the speaker of the parliament and the president, because he opposed their plan to delay elections. That ignited protests on the streets of Mogadishu, and among refugee communities in Toronto and London.

In Mogadishu, crowds chanted Mohamed’s nickname “Farmajo” while he rolled by in a tank, pumping his fist.

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's supporters set up a Facebook page to urge the prime minister to stay in office.
Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's supporters set up a Facebook page to urge the prime minister to stay in office.

“I could see their emotion was very, very high," he said. "They were chanting 'Hagulesto Farmajo' meaning ‘Stay in office. You will ultimately prevail.’”

But he didn’t, eventually stepping down, he says, so the government could focus on the country’s growing famine.

Thousands of Somalis have died this year because of malnutrition, and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes for camps around Mogadishu or in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Ken Menkhaus says Mohamed was on the right track and did not deserve his swift dismissal.

“He emerged as a symbol of everything that Somalis are frustrated with. That there are people of good will, like him, who are trying to do the right thing in Somalia," he said. "And they are constantly being sacrificed on the altar of political calculations.”

Today, Mohamed is back at his old job at New York’s Department of Transportation. As a regional compliance specialist, he makes sure minorities receive a fair share of contracts. He says working in this position has some similarities to serving as a head of government.

“But no job will train you or give you experience to do that kind of work," said Mohamed. "Yeah, two different titles. One, you are heading a nation, and the other one, you’re a bureaucrat and civil servant. But both jobs basically is to help people.”

On Mohamed’s first day back, his co-workers welcomed him with cake and a small party. They also decorated his cubicle with pictures they found online of him posing with other world leaders.

You May Like

Sunni-Shi’ite Divide Threatens Middle East Stability

Analysts say ancient dispute that traces back to Islamic Revolution is fueling modern day unrest More

Shifting Demographics Lie Beneath Racial Tensions in Ferguson

As Missouri suburb morphed from majority white to majority black, observers say power structure remained static More

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Restriction is toughest since Soviet era, though critics reject move as patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid