Somalia: Ambassador Ali Americo to face incumbent Mohammud Hassan Sheikh in presidential race

Somalia: Ambassador Ali Americo to face incumbent Mohammud Hassan Sheikh in presidential race
Former Somalia Ambassador to Kenya Mohamed Ali Nur "Americo" with President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House Nairobi in April 2015 when he was bidding farewell after the end of his tour of duty. The diplomat is now in the race to be Somalia's next President.

Former Somalia envoy to Kenya Mohamed Ali Nur to face incumbent Mohammud Hassan Sheikh in presidential race.

As neighbouring Somalia heads for crucial presidential and parliamentary polls next month, the immediate former Somalia Ambassador to Kenya Mohamed Ali Nur “Americo” sees himself as the best bet to lead the country to greener pastures amid an on-going violent conflict with Al Shabaab.

The 54 year old father of eight, who served as a diplomat in Nairobi between October 2007 and April 2015, is now seeking to unseat the current President Mohammud Hassan Sheikh from power.

The long-time diplomat, who served his term during President Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta, sees the current Somali Federal government as lacking in focus in combating the threat of Al Shabaab to Somalia and regional countries, as well as fixing the unemployment crisis among Somali youths and building genuine reconciliation in the grassroots.

“I fully understand the frustrations of Somali nationals in Somalia and in the diaspora and Somalia’s neighbours regarding the continued instability in the country despite many efforts to restore peace. But I have a clear strategy to return the country to normalcy within a few years,” he said.

The former envoy is expected to fight it out for the top seat with other political heavy weights in the Somali politics including former President Sheikh Shariff Ahmed, former Prime Ministers Mohammed Abdullahi “Farmaajo” and Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed among others in what promises to be a tight race.

As an envoy in Nairobi, Amb Nur was central in easing tensions between Kenya and Somalia following the devastating Al Shabaab attack in Westgate Shopping Mall (September 2014) and Garissa University college (April 2015).

He also mobilized Somali nationals in Kenya to donate blood and provide humanitarian and moral assistance to the victims of the attacks. He also urged the Kenyan government against what he saw as profiling and harassment of Somalis by Kenya’s security forces in response to Al Shabaab attacks.

In an interview during a brief stop in Nairobi from the Somali capital, Mr Nur said that if elected President, his priority will be to empower the Somali security forces to shoulder greater responsibility in maintaining security and stability inside the country instead of continued overreliance on African Union soldiers.

“We appreciate the enormous sacrifices that have been made by AMISOM in stabilising Somalia for the last 10 years, including the loss of many lives. But we realize that AMISOM soldiers cannot be in Somalia indefinitely.

Ambassador Mohamed Ali Nur
Ambassador Mohamed Ali Nur

That is why the process of building and strengthening local security forces must be speeded up,” he said. He added: “Currently, local forces cannot stand up to Al Shabaab without the backing of AMISOM. This is not sustainable if Somalia and the region have to be secured from Al Shabaab and other groups that are threatening our common security.”

The US-trained economist, who is popularly known as “Ali Americo” by friends, says that there is little investment going into the local security forces, with military and police personnel going for months without salaries even though their salary is only US$100 or Sh10,000. He attributed the anomaly to graft and lack of vision.

“The Somalia Federal Government has received millions of dollars in the recent years on behalf of the country’s security forces, but there is little to show for that money,” he said.

The former diplomat also indicated that he will invest heavily in creating job and educational opportunities for the youth as a peace building strategy to prevent them from being lured into criminal groups. “For the last several years, we have not seen major initiatives to create job and educational opportunities for the youth making them vulnerable for recruitment into violent groups.

Many youths are also endangering their lives to immigrate to Europe because of lack of opportunities at home,” he said. Mr Nur said that Somalia has significant natural resources including the longest coastline in Africa as well as livestock and agricultural resources which can be deployed to unlock the youth unemployment crisis that is facing the country.

Recently, the diplomat made a whirlwind road trip throughout most of Somalia to familiarise himself with the actual living situation of the people on the ground and, some say, to drum up support for his candidature to Villa Somalia, the name of the presidential palace in Mogadishu.

Ambassador Nur insists that the continued instability in Somalia is partly due to absence of a true grassroots reconciliation process among the different warring clans in Somalia who have lived through more than a quarter century of conflict.

“The reconciliation processes in the recent past by successive governments have not produced fruit since they largely involved the politicians and clan elders only. What we need is a bottom-up approach from the grassroots to create the required environment for peace and stability,” he said.

Recently, the Ambassador made headlines in Somalia when he publicly forgave a man who confessed to him that he had killed his 18-month old baby in 1992 when the Somali central government fell apart and the country descended into civil strife. In September 2014, Mr Ali Nur was having coffee in a small seaside café in Mogadishu together with a friend when a man came up and sought audience with him.

“When he told me that he was part of the gang that stormed my house 22 years earlier and brutally shot my baby, I felt strong anger rise up in me and I almost resorted to kill him because of the pain that the memory had evoked,” he recalls his eyes welling up with emotion. “I think it is only God who intervened and calmed me down.

Then I told him that I had forgiven him. We then fell into each other’s’ arms and begun crying,” When the incident was reported widely by various local media as a symbol of reconciliation, other similar cases emerged in various parts of the country with killers owning to their crimes and being pardoned by relatives of the deceased.

“I am not saying justice shouldn’t be done. But people have something in their hearts, and they need to clear out through reconciliation,” said the diplomat.

While serving as an envoy in Nairobi, Mr Nur lead efforts through the courts to restore ownership of the Somali embassy property in Nairobi that had been illegally sold  to a private individual way back in 1994/95. The prime property in Nairobi’s Spring Valley areas was restored in December 2010.

About Amb Mohamed Ali Nur “Americo” Mohamed Ali Nur was born on October 12, 1962, in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. His father was a boxer and a foreman in a borehole-drilling company. He also owned a chain of restaurants in the capital and a rental car service.  His mother was a housewife and died when Mohamed was only 9 years old. Amb Nur’s father fondness for cowboy hats made his friends nickname him “Ali Americo.  He is the eldest of his six siblings.

He studied high school in Mogadishu before proceeding to Montgomery College in Maryland, United States and then to the University of Maryland to specialize in economics. He graduated in 1985. He returned to Somalia to start working as the head of the accounting department at the Central Bank of Somalia in 1986.

He stayed in that position until the civil war in Somalia started in 1991. He then left Somalia for the US where he worked before moving to Canada in 2000. He returned to serve in the office in the Prime Minister in the Transitional Federal Government in 2005 when it was still based in Nairobi. He also served as ChargeD’Affaires in the newly reopened Somali Embassy in Nairobi before he was appointed the envoy in 2007.