With one foot in the U.S. and one in Somalia, Somali Americans constantly struggle with balancing their two identities.
On U.S. soil, we’re the direct targets of rising anti-Islamic and anti-immigration sentiment, most recently with President Donald Trump’s challenged travel ban to the U.S. from Somalia and six other majority-Muslim countries.
But there’s been better news for us lately: Last Wednesday, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” was elected Somalia’s ninth president in the country’s first democratic election. Young Somalis from all over the world congratulated the new president. Some Somali Americans have even called him the Bernie Sanders of Somalia due to his progressive views:
Farmaajo is like the Bernie sanders of Somalia except he beat the establishment 🇸🇴 May Allah be with him.
— A (@AmalAkilYare) February 8, 2017
Born in Mogadishu in 1962, Farmajo, like many Somali Americans, is a dual U.S.-Somali citizen. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the State University of New York and worked for the Buffalo Municipal Housing commissioner and New York State Department of Transport before returning to Somalia to serve as its prime minister from 2010 to 2011.
In his presidential campaign, he ran on the platform of ending the oppressive tribalism that fueled Somalia’s civil war and undoing much of the government corruption that has plagued the country’s recovery from it. Farmajo also stated that he will increase jobs in Somalia and make it less economically dependent on other countries like the U.S., Ethiopia and Kenya.
“This victory belongs to the Somali people,” the new president announced shortly after taking his oath of office. “This is the beginning of the era of unity, the democracy of Somalia and the beginning of the fight against corruption.”
Farmajo’s presidency is a sign of hope for many young Somalis. Seattle-based Somali activist Sundus Ahmed sees this election as a historic win and the first time Somali voices have really been heard.
During a Somali Student Association meeting last Wednesday night, University of Washington (UW) students I spoke to like Najma Hassan, were surprised at Farmajo’s victory. Considering Somalia’s record of election vote-buying through parliament, she noted that “in a war-torn country like Somalia, corruption always wins.”
This election made history in demonstrating to the people of Somalia that democracy can exist and corruption doesn’t have to be the norm. In his year in office as Somalia’s prime minister, Farmajo established an anti-corruption commission to increase transparency of government spending and ensured regularly disbursed salaries for government workers and soldiers.
“I hope he gives soldiers fair wages, invests in the public sector and helps with the Somali drought,” said UW student Nawal Hassan.
In the motherland, Abdirashid Dahir is an engineer and youth advocate. He hopes Farmajo really prioritizes government corruption and youth unemployment in his country.
As a fellow Somali, I hope and pray Farmajo brings the change he promises.
As we say in Somali: “Hambalyo madaxweyne, Somalia ha noolato!” (“Congrats President, and may Somalia prosper!”)