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Dec 22nd

Somalia President Mohamud visit draws protest

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hassan sheikh mohamudSomalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has been battling mounting political and social challenges in a country engulfed by decades of war, anarchy, and famine. On August 9, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside of the University of Minnesota's Northrup Hall on the East Bank to protest his visit and speech.

Mohamud's last visit to Minneapolis in January 2013, came four months after he became president. The United States had given formal recognition of a Somali government for the first time in more than two decades. The country had a stable government, a new prime minister, and a functioning parliament.

saado aliThe tone was different this visit, however. Between chants of "Down Hassan Down!" and "Step Down Hassan!" protesters danced to the music of Saado Ali Warsame, a member of the Somali Parliament and a former Minnesota resident, who was assassinated on July 23 in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Al-Shabaab, which translates to "The Youth," a Somalia-based cell of the militant Islamist group al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Warsame was one of only a few women in Somalia's parliament, and the first female legislator killed by al-Shabaab. They have carried out attacks against numerous government officials, African Union peacekeepers, and United Nations staff in a deadly campaign of suicide bombings and gun attacks.

A well-known human rights advocate, Warsame was also famous as an actress, dancer, and songwriter. Despite being imprisoned several times in the 1980s, Warsame never stopped using her songs and voice to plant the seeds of peace and unity in Somalia and its communities in Minnesota. She used her early songs to confront government officials who spent public funds for personal gains while some citizens starved. The mother of three arrived in the United States back in 1991, after civil war broke out in Somalia, and lived in St. Cloud most of the time.

Warsame had received many prestigious awards, represented Somalia at the Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture held in Nigeria in 1977, and even performed in a St. Cloud Somali independence celebration in 2010.

In 2012, as part of the wave of people from the Minnesota Somali community who have returned to Somalia for employment opportunities and to help rebuild their war-ravaged homeland, Warsame relocated to her homeland and was elected to the national parliament. Somalis in Minnesota have been key to rebuilding peace in the African country and have made significant investments and contributions to Somalia.

Many Somalis now question whether President Mohamud will bring stability to the country bogged down by cycles of insecurity, poverty, and underdevelopment. They had counted on the new president to defeat al-Shabaab. Instead, the militant group intensified its attacks on government centers, increased suicide bombing on populated areas, and targeted killings of government officials—with little resistance from the government.

"[President Mohamud] is bringing us back to the way things were in 1991," said Abdullahi Ahmed, a committee organizer for the protest. "He only favors his own clan and his own way."

The United Nations recently warned that over 350,000 displaced people in the Somali capital are facing an acute hunger crisis. Recent reports also indicate that the systematic diversion of weapons to the terrorist group al-Shabaab, clan politics, and a lack of inclusiveness undermines any progress made in the region.

Warsame had also been an organizer for the demonstration at Northrup Hall on August 9. Protesters wore tee shirts bearing her photo and pictures of other parliamentary members who have been assassinated by al-Shabaab. Shortly before her untimely death, she had said that "the community wants to send a strong message to the president about his failures in his office, and for not leading the country on the path to progress and stability."
 

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