NAIROBI, Kenya - During his years as an administrator in the Northern New York State Department of Transportation, the Somali refugee-turned-citizen American took courses in political science, imbibing valuess democratic systems that he hoped one day to export to his country of origin.
This dream came true for Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed in 2017, when he returned to Somalia and was elected president in a surprise victory that showed great hopes that he could reform - even transform - his dysfunctional and war-exhausted country.
But those aspirations have collapsed since Mr. Mohamed failed to hold an election at the end of his four-year term in February, then decided to extend his reign for two years - a step many Somalis saw as a naked takeover.
A furious political conflict turned violent on Sunday when a series of shootings erupted between rival military factions in the capital, Mogadishu, raising fears that Somalia, after years of modest but gradual progress, could sink into the clan bloodshed genre which tore him apart in the 1990s.
Now Mr. Mohamed is a Democrat his credentials are in tatters and he is in an open confrontation with his former ally, the United States, where he still has a family home. Secretary of State Antony J. Ben has publicly threatened to sanction Mohamed and other Somali officials, and this week US officials reiterated their calls for Somalia to hold elections immediately.
"All of his brain power is focused on his ascendant and on how he can dominate the stage, "said Abdirashid Hashi, a former minister under Mr. Mohamed." His mastery of the rope allowed him to get away with it.ec a lot of things. But now all of these tactical moves have resulted in the fiasco we find ourselves in.
In an effort to defuse the crisis, Mr. Mohamed agreed to attend Parliament on Saturday. But the capital is on a razor's edge, and the stakes have been at their highest for years, according to Somali leader RS and Western officials. Billions of dollars in aid programs and debt relief threatened, hopes of young Somalis determined to find a better future and move forward in the fight against the insurgents with Al Shabab, one of the better organized and funded Al-Qaeda affiliates .
Mr. Mohamed did not respond to an interview request or to questions sent to his collaborators.
Popularly known as "Farmaajo" - a derivation of the Italian word for cheese and allegedly his father's favorite food - Mr. Mohamed was once the porter hopes of many Somalis.
Festive gunfire erupted in Mogadishu in 2017 following his unexpected election victory, and he quickly garnered support from across the board. political parties and Somali clans who backed his promises of an anti-graft, anti-Shabab crusade. "The first few months have been incredible," said Colonel Ahmed Abdullahi Sheikh, then commander of Danab, an elite commando unit formed in the United States. "I thought I had met my hero.
US officials alsobeen impressed. Although at least five U.S. passport holders ran for president that year, Mr. Mohamed was widely regarded as less corrupt, more oriented towards reforms and less manipulated by foreign interests than the 24 other candidates.
"This is the start of unity for the Somali nation," Mohamed told supporters shortly after winning the election.
Mr. Mohamed arrived in the United States in 1985 as a junior diplomat at the Somali Embassy and, while his country fell into conflict, decided to stay. A family friend said he first sought political asylum in Canada, where his mother and siblings lived, and then obtained a Can passportadien.
But in the early 1990s, the newly married Mr. Mohamed returned to the United States where his family finally settled on Grand Island, next to Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
He studied history at university of Buffalo, became a United States citizen, campaigned for a Republican candidate in the county election, and in 2002 got a job with the New York Department of Transportation.
An episode from this period in Mr. Mohamed's life provided insightof the political style that has brought Somalia to a dangerous crossroads.
Several US-Somali leaders said that in 2007 a heated argument broke out within a Somali community group led by Mr. Mohamed in Buffalo . His two-year term was drawing to a close, but some members accused him of trying to cling to power by manipulating the electoral process, they said.
Somali-Americans, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their ties to the president of the president's family, said the conflict had ended with the split of the community group in two.
Mr. Mohamed burst into Somali politics in 2010 when he so impressed the President of Somalia Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in a visit to New York where Mr. Sharif appointed him Prime Minister.
But Mr. Mohamed only lasted eight months in his post, expelled by Somali political machinations, and he was soon back at his desk at the Buffalo Department of Transportation, where he implemented policies of non-discrimination and affirmative action.
The high hopes many Somalis have placed in Mr. Mohamed in 2017, when he won the presidency against all odds, stemmed in part from his public image as a calm, bespectacled, if not charismatic, technocrat. But disappointment soon set in.
Mr. Mohamed played the clan politics of
At the end of 2018, he arrested a potential rival, triggering protests in which at least 15 people were killed and weeks later expelled the envoy. United Nations, accusing him of meddling in Somali affairs. Mohamed has come to rely heavily on his powerful spy chief, Fahad Yasin, whose security services have arrested and tortured independent journalists, according to human rights groups , United Nations officials and Westerners.
Mr. Yasin, a former Al Jazeera journalist, had become a channel for unofficial Qatari funds which were used to help elect Mr. Mohamed, and which he used to solidify his political base while in power, officials said - part of a larger proxy. battle for influence between rival oil-rich Persian Gulf states in this strategically located country.
Some members of Mr. Mohamed's inner circle, including Colonel Sheikh, became disillusioned and resigned. "I thought to myself: " These people are bad news "he said.
In 2019, Mr. Mohamed renounced his US citizenship . He did not explain the decision, but officials with knowledge of the case pointed to a possible factor.
By the time Mr. Mohamed returned his passport, his finances had arrived under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service in the United States, three Western officials familiar with the matter said, speaking under the guise of 'anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue concerning a foreign head of state.
Mr. Mohamed's office did not respond to inquiries questions about an IRS Audit.
As Mr. Mohamed contemplates his next move, his former US allies say he must act quickly.
"It's time for President Farmaajo to step in and do what it isthe best for his country, "Robert F. Godec, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, wrote Thursday in an email to The Times. "Elections must take place immediately.
In interviews, several Somali politicians said the mess was also Washington's fault, blaming states -United not to intervene with Mr. Mohamed when his authoritarian tendencies became evident several years ago.
Responding to criticism, a porter State Department speech said that the United States has "repeatedly and consistently urged President Farmaajo to engage constructively with the leaders of federal member states to advance political reconciliation and achieve consensus on issues vital to the stability of Somalia.
Mr. Mohamed's achievements as president include a major debt relief deal in 2020 that canceled at least $ 1.4 billion in arrears from the country. He also stirred up nationalist passions with cut ties with neighboring Kenya in December as part of a long-standing diplomatic dispute.
His firm position ist popular among ordinary Somalis weary of foreign interference.
"The president is working for the interests of Somalia " said Abdihakim Ali, 43, speaking by phone from Kismayo town. , in the south of the country. "Foreigners don't want this.
Yet Mr. Mohamed also relies heavily on other regional powers - continuing to receive funding from Qatar and allying with the autocratic President of Eritrea , Isaias Afwerki, whose mili tary has trained thousands of Somali soldiers, Western and Somali officials say.
"It comes like money and it is not counted," Abdirizak Mohamed, former interior minister and nowant opposition MP, said about Qatari funds. "It 's an open secret.
Now, Mr. Mohamed is confined to Villa Somalia, the presidential compound in central Mogadishu, in as military units loyal to its most powerful adversaries - a coalition of presidential candidates and the leaders of two of Somalia's five regional states - camp at a major crossroads a few hundred yards away.
Concerned locals say they don't have any I don't know if the president's latest concession will provide a real opportunity for further talks, or a pause before rival fighters open fire again.
"I feel a lot of fear," Zahra Qorane Omar, a community organizer, said by phone from Mogadishu. “We have suffered enough suffering. The ball is not what this city or its people deserve.
Hussein Mohamed contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.