Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Dual US and Somalia citizen elected president of Somalia

Grand Island man elected president of Somalia

Mohamed A. Mohamed, a Grand Island resident and former prime minister of Somalia, has been elected president of the African country. (Buffalo News file photo)

By Jane Kwiatkowski Radlich
Published Wed, Feb 8, 2017

A Grand Island man was elected president of Somalia today in that war-torn African country's first presidential election in decades.

Mohamed A. Mohamed, 54, a former prime minister of Somalia who worked at the state Department of Transportation office in Buffalo, was picked to be the country's president by its Parliament, the Associated Press reported.

Mohamed beat nearly two dozen candidates, including the incumbent president to win the job.

A former prime minister who holds dual Somali-U.S. citizenship has been declared Somalia's new president. 

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Voting started Wednesday in Somalia's groundbreaking presidential election amid a security lockdown that has closed the capital's international airport.

"This is an historic opportunity for the people of Somalia who finally have a leader who will put their needs and priorities first," said Joel Giambra, the former Erie County executive and close friend of Mohamed.

"His objective will be to establish peace and prosperity inside his homeland by aggressively going after terrorists. This is an opportunity for our new president to collaborate with a new world leader who happens to be from Grand Island."

Mohamed has been campaigning in Somalia for nearly a year, said Intisar Mohamed, his daughter who lives on Grand Island.

Mohamed, the former prime minister of Somalia and founder of the Tayo political party, was one of two finalists considered by the Parliament,  The other finalist was Somalia's incumbent president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Somalia, a country wracked by terrorism for years, is one of the seven predominantly Muslim countries from which President Trump barred all travel in an executive order issued Jan. 27.

"This could have a big impact on the fight against terrorism," Giambra said of the Somali election. "You could have a new president in Somalia and a new president in Washington and they happen to be from the same state."

Mohamed met Giambra while working on the former county executive's campaign in 1999. In 2000, when Giambra took office Mohamed took a job with the county working on affirmative action compliance.

"It's all pretty cool," said Giambra. "Here's a guy with a family on Grand Island. He has dual citizenship. When he was prime minister, he brought stability. He started paying policemen."

Mohamed has unfinished business in his struggling homeland where the election has been postponed four times since November, said his daughter.

"He loves his country," said Intisar Mohamed, who is 24. "At the end of the day that's where he was born."

Born in Mogadishu, Mohamed worked for Somalia's ministry of foreign affairs in the mid '80s. In 1985 he was transferred to Washington and worked in the Somalian embassy for four years.

After applying for asylum, his daughter said he moved to Buffalo because it has a large Somali refugee community.

Mohamed was working for the state DOT in Buffalo when he met briefly with Somalia's President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed in New York in 2010, according to a report in The Buffalo News. Later that year he was tapped by Ahmed to be prime minister of Somalia. He served for eight months.

"After so many years of turmoil, he served at a time when the people of Somalia lost hope," said his daughter. "The people were hanging by a thread. He made sure the foundation was proper."

Today, Mohamed's campaign slogan -- Dalka Danta Dadka (the land, the needs, the people) -- has resonated with many Somalis, said Intisar Mohamed, who monitors social media to track her father's campaign.

Today's vote in Somalia was not a popular vote, she noted. Parliament members select the president based on the sentiment of their constituents.

After the first Parliament vote tally, incumbent president Mohamud held a slim lead over Mohamed, 88-72. Two runners-up -- a former president and current prime minister -- finished with 49 and 37 respectively.

In a runoff, the Parliament chose Mohamed as president.

With Somalia eight hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, Mohamed's family and friends remained fixed on the web.

"The challenged he faces are mammoth," said Giambra, but he's well-equipped to deal with them with the U.S. as an ally."

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