Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman received an award from The President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Sunday.

The President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, spoke to Columbus’ Somali community on Sunday, September 22, at the Polaris Hilton hotel and addressed Ohio State students on Monday, September 23. He was greeted by both enthusiastic supporters and protesters in both places. Mohamud is the first official president of Somalia since civil war broke out in 1991. The Federal Republic of Somalia, which formed in 2012 from a series of transitional governments, was officially recognized by the United States in January this year. His visit to Columbus follows a visit to Washington DC to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry and a series of trips around Europe seeking international aid. His trip will culminate at a conference in Brussels as he tries to gather support for his “New Deal for Somalia” conference.
President Hassan's event for the Somali-American community included speeches from a number of other cabinet members including Fawzia Yusuf Adam, Somalia's first female deputy prime minister and foreign minister. As Basra Mohamed, a reporter for Danjir News excitedly stated, “The whole government of Somalia is here.” Mayor Mike Coleman was also in attendance, and was presented with an award from the Somali president for the steps his administration has taken to accommodate Somali refugees and ensure that they have needed access to community resources in Columbus. In accepting the award,  Coleman said, “Columbus has the second largest Somali population in the United States. . . .We in Columbus appreciate the Somali people, we are proud of our diversity, and we will continue to embrace the immigrant community and the Somali community through the new American initiative to ensure that all immigrants have access to city services.” He went on to ask for support for Issues 50 and 51 and mentioned that the city of Columbus will be including a new sister city in the continent of Africa next year.

The next day President Mohamud addressed a crowd of Ohio State students and faculty at an event sponsored by the John Glenn School of Public Affairs. The speech started out highlighting his background in education and how inspired he was to see so many Somali students attending an institution of higher learning. He mentioned that there were currently no public schools in Somalia, with all of the existing schools being private and focused specifically on trades and technical knowledge. His vision is to restart the Somali national university and his challenge to OSU was to assist them. He invoked the longstanding rivalry with Michigan, dropping in the fact that, in 1961, it was the University of Michigan that responded to Kennedy's call to help post-colonial Africa in the formation of the Somali school of education. He lauded OSU for being one of only two universities in the world to have an academic program for the study of Somali.
Mohamud also mentioned that the primary focus of his government is on security and stability. Moving to the subject of  Al-Shabab (the terrorist group that recently attacked a mall in Kenya and responsible for various attacks in Somalia) he said regarding the battle, “It's as much about books as bullets,” and he emphasized the need for a functioning educational system to protect innocent youth from the poison of extremist ideas.
Both events drew protesters who voiced a number of issues they had with the President of Somalia. Many of them waved signs saying “Khatumo,” (a northern region that formed its own semi-autonomous government in 2012). Protest organizer Mohamud Ali (not Cassius Clay, he joked) stated “These people [the protestors] represent at least two-thirds of Somali's territory. ...This President is telling people what they want to hear, especially the western world. But he is obscuring the reality.” When asked what policy changes they are seeking, Mohamud said, “We want him to change his policies or he has to resign. We want him to respect the constitution. He actually changed 32 articles of the constitution, if you could read the number of critical constitution (articles) that he changed related to the power sharing of the nation, the role of the central, the role of the member states and the role of the communities … He has been fighting with the formation of Jubaland state. We hope that this guy realizes he is not a unilateral leader and he needs to respect the constitution. He thinks everything is Mogadishu, all that he knows is studies he has done with [non-govermental organizations].”

Mohamud ended his Monday speech with a concise challenge to the young Somali-Americans in the audience: “Your country needs you.”

He went on to explain that, after the 22 years of conflict, they need help rebuilding Somalia. He spoke of how they were rebuilding public education with a plan to send a million students to public schools for the first time in 22 years within the next three years. Echoing the words of JFK he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”

He asked Somali-Americans to return, if even for a short time, to act as role models for other young Somalis and said that his government has established a special commission to provide assistance for the Somalia diaspora in coordinating their visits and return.

Whether Mohamud will be able to pull Somalia into recovery and into development remains to be seen. Certainly since the Somali community is now a part of the Columbus community, the future of Somalia will also have an impact on this city.
(CUTLINE SomaliProtesters) Protesters greeted appearances by Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on both days of his stay in Columbus.