In February, people around the world celebrated the victory of Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo Mohamed, when he was elected president of the East African country of Somalia. Known by the nickname Farmaajo, Mohamed ran on the campaign slogan Dalka Danta Dadka, which means “The Land, The Needs, the People” in the Somali language.
Somalis living both in Somalia and as refugees in countries around the world are hopeful. This particular election was an important one. Somalia had not had a democratic election in a long time. The last one, which was held in 1969, did not end peacefully. It was followed by a political coup, a dictatorship, and violence. The country has been wracked by both civil war and terrorism ever since. People think that Mohamed’s election could bring stability to this East African nation.
A Close Race
In 2016, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo Mohamed was one of over 20 candidates who wanted to be Somalia’s president. Mohamed and 15 of the candidates had dual citizenship. Because of decades of conflict, many Somalis relocated to other countries where they and their families could live in safety. Estimates are that about 8.5 million Somalis fled that country because of internal turmoil. Of the presidential candidates, 9 were U.S. citizens, 4 were British citizens, and 3 were Canadian citizens.
In the United States, all citizens are allowed to vote in a presidential election. In contrast, in Somalia the president is chosen by members of that country’s legislative body, the Parliament. Members of Somalia’s Parliament are expected, however, to vote according to the wishes of their constituents who voted them into office.
In the first vote, Parliament re-elected current president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud with a slim lead of 88 to 72 votes over Mohamed. Since the vote was so close, a runoff election was held. In the runoff, the Parliament chose Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, whose 184 votes clearly defeated Mohamud’s 97.
Newly elected President Mohamed is optimistic about the days to come.
“My presidency will be about the future,” Mohamed promises. “Prioritizing healthcare, education, skills and jobs—the foundation stones of sustainable security, stability and economic growth.”
From Mogadishu to Buffalo and Back
Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed was born in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in 1962. He earned his nickname Farmaajo from his love of cheese. For most of the twentieth century, much of Somalia was a colony of the European country Italy. Farmaajo comes from formaggio, the Italian word for cheese.
Mohamed worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Somalia from 1982 until 1985. In 1985 he was transferred to Washington, D.C., where he worked at the Somalian embassy for four years.
After the turmoil that followed Somalia’s 1989 election, Mohamed chose to live in another country—as did many other Somalis. He sought political asylum in the United States. After applying for asylum, he moved to Buffalo, New York, because of that city’s large Somali refugee community. He eventually became a U.S. citizen. He also went to college in the U.S., earning degrees in history and American studies.
Mohamed had a successful career in the United States. He served as Commissioner and Finance Chair for the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority and as Equal Employment Manager at the New York State Department of Transportation. He also taught leadership skills and conflict resolution at Erie Community College.
Mohamed was still living and working in Buffalo when he met with Somalia’s then President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed in New York City in 2010. Later that year, Ahmed asked him to be prime minister of Somalia. Mohamed served in that role for eight months before he resigned over a disagreement. He then returned to Buffalo.
Members of Buffalo’s Somali community are now celebrating the victory of one of their own.
“Somalia is having a difficult time,” said Bashir Hagi Abdi, a Somali living in Buffalo. “There are three reasons: militant groups, instability of neighboring countries and political clans. I believe the new president will have to work very hard, and he will because he is a great leader.”
The Horn of Africa
Somalia is about the size of the U.S. state of Texas. It is located on the tip of a region called the Horn of Africa. This area earned this nickname because of its resemblance to the shape of a rhinoceros horn when viewed on a map. Around 12 million people live in Somalia. The country has two official languages, Somali and Arabic. Most citizens belong to the Muslim religion.
Somalia is bordered by the country of Djibouti to the northwest, Kenya to the southwest, and Ethiopia to the west. Somalia has the largest coastline in mainland Africa, and is is bordered by the Gulf of Aden to the north and the Indian Ocean to the east.
Both the United Nations and the African Union see Mohamed’s election as an important step towards building a stable democracy in the region. A stable government is important because Somalia is strategically important. It is a key port for international trade since it lies on the Indian Ocean and at the entrance to the Red Sea.
Since the disastrous election of 1989, much of the order in Somalia has been kept by foreign military. Both the United States and China have a large naval presence in the area, and the two countries’ navies have been key in reducing piracy. With the collapse of government authority in Somali’s civil war, piracy became a major problem in the unpatrolled waters off the country’s coast.
People are also interested in the security of Somalia because of a civil war in the nearby country of Yemen. Some believe that some groups are smuggling weapons into Yemen through Somalia. As a result, there has been even more pressure from other countries to improve safety in the area. Many hope that Mohamed’s election will help do just that.
Visit President Mohamed’s 2016 campaign website.
More Somalis live in Minnesota than any other state in the United States. Hear about their struggles and challenges at Minnesota Public Radio.
Images and Sources
Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo Photo: AMISOM Photo.
Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo Photo License: Public Domain.
Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo Inauguration Photo: AMISOM Photo.
Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo Inauguration Photo License: Public Domain.