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

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

At Boston Bombing Hearing, Sides Spar Over Boat

At final pre-trial hearing, lawyers for suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, prosecutors disagree on whether vessel where he hid from police can be shown to jurors More

Iran Judiciary 'Picks' Lawyer for Detained WP Reporter

Masoud Shafii has been attempting to secure official recognition as Rezaian’s attorney, but is not allowed to see his client in prison 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More