The upbeat new leader of the world's frailest state is banking on his deep connection with the USby Ismail Einashe / April 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
On 20th February, Stephen Schwartz, the first United States ambassador to Somalia for 25 years, visited the capital Mogadishu to congratulate newly-elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as “Farmajo.” Schwartz (appointed by Barack Obama) presented Farmajo with a gift: a blue-and-white cap with the slogan “Make Somalia Great Again.” When I first saw the photo of their meeting, I assumed it was a spoof from the Onion. Somalia had just been listed as one of seven Muslim-majority countries whose citizens Donald Trump wanted to ban from entering the US. But then the US Mission to Somalia proudly tweeted it, leaving Somalis dumbfounded at how an American diplomat could make light of the situation.
Somalia is a country of 10m people, plagued by corruption, jihadi violence and—most recently—a devastating famine. Farmajo has described the current drought, the country’s third in the last 25 years, as a “national disaster.” The United Nations has said that conditions in the region amount to the world’s “largest humanitarian crisis” since 1945. Sixteen million could be affected across four East African countries including South Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia. In Somalia, 2.9m people are at immediate risk. When Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met Farmajo in March, he pledged £110m to help. But continuing violence means little aid is delivered to the worst affected areas.
Faced with so many problems how will Farmajo fare in the world’s toughest job? Some Somalia-watchers are cautiously hopeful—more so than they have been about previous leaders. Farmajo’s unusual background and academic demeanour provide some optimism that he might, if not make Somalia great, at least start to drag it out of its quagmire.
Born in 1962, he got the nickname “Farmajo”—a corruption of “formaggio”—because he loved Italian cheese as a child, the food known from the time when Somalia was an Italian colony. His father was from a well-connected clan and studied in Italy. Like him, Farmajo went abroad and was in the US when the first rumblings of war began in his homeland in 1988. Based in Buffalo, New York State, he managed to claim asylum and eventually become a citizen. Living the American dream as the refugee made good, Farmajo stayed with his family in suburban Grand Island, where one of his jobs…