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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs