Stephen Schwartz, the Obama-appointed U.S. ambassador to Somalia, gave President Mohamed Abdullahi an unusual gift after two days of meetings: A blue-and-white cap bearing the slogan “Make Somalia Great Again.”
The U.S. mission to Somalia was quick to publicize the gift on Twitter:
US2SOM Amb Schwartz had a fruitful mtng w Pres Farmaajo 2day + presented the Pres with a cap "MAKE SOM GREAT AGAIN" https://t.co/rXHgpWFp pic.twitter.com/EWFdrRipv3
— U.S. Mission-Somalia (@US2SOMALIA) February 17, 2017
This is all the more interesting because, as the UK Telegraph points out, Somalia is one of the seven countries affected by President Trump’s temporary ban on immigration. President Abdullahi (more widely known by his nickname “Farmaajo,” which is a play on the Italian word for cheese – his favorite food as a child) has pledged to work on getting Somalia off the list.
NBC News noted after his election that Farmaajo, a dual citizen of the United States and Somalia, seems willing to acknowledge that Somalia has problems and is determined to work on them. He briefly served as prime minister six years ago and is well-regarded in Somalia as an opponent of corruption and terrorism.
“He is committed to bringing peace and stability to his people and to his country. He has always said that terrorism will be his number one objective,” a longtime friend told NBC. “To eradicate terrorism in Somalia, as he said to me many times, the most effective way to stop terrorism in the United States is to stop it in Somalia.”
“It is part of my responsibility to talk about this issue with the U.S. government by conveying our message to the president and his government that the Somali people are really good, hard-working people,” he said in a February 10 telephone interview with Voice of America News. “They raise their families in the United States. So we will see if he can change that policy and exclude Somalis from that list.”
The Telegraph quotes a variety of responses on Twitter who found the “Make Somalia Great Again” hat to be insulting or inappropriate, but it seems more likely to have been given and accepted in the spirit of a constructive working relationship. Farmaajo used his Twitter account to declare himself pleased with the meeting:
— Mohamed A. Farmaajo (@M_Farmaajo) February 17, 2017
Some of the Somalis responding to this tweet used “make Somalia great again!” in their messages, so perhaps the slogan is already catching on. On the other hand, a few of the responses complain about Trump’s immigration executive order.
The BBC notes that Ambassador Schwartz, the first American envoy to Somalia in 25 years, is a native of Buffalo, New York — which is where President Farmaajo spent much of his adult life.
In fact, according to Politico, Farmaajo was “still technically employed as an equal opportunity compliance officer” for the New York Department of Transportation when he was sworn in as president of Somalia. His experience working for American government was an important point on his resume for the presidency.
He holds a master’s degree in political science from New York State University, where he argued that “Islamic extremists” were one of the major obstacles to stability in Somalia. His thesis also argued that Islamic radicalism was locked in a “holy war” with the “Christian ideology” of then-President George W. Bush, a war fought in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Somalia.
He can’t very well argue that the U.S. government has forcibly spread any “Christian ideology” since Bush left office, and Somalia is still in rough shape; Farmaajo was elected by parliamentarians who had to meet in a Mogadishu airport hangar under guard by African Union peacekeepers because there were fears the Islamist terrorist organization al-Shabaab would murder them. Making Somalia Great Again will be no easy task.