There's a story making its way through the British press today about Mohamed Ibrahim, a 64-year-old north London test prep teacher who recently informed his headmaster that he wouldn't be returning to school this year because he'd unexpectedly been appointed as Somalia's deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs. The headmaster, Richard Kolka, told The Telegraph that he had no idea he was employing someone who was such an important figure in his native Somalia. "He was always such a humble guy," Kolka explained. "I was gobsmacked." Ibrahim, pictured above in late July at emergency talks on Somalia's drought and famine in Rome, promised to stop by the school when he passes through London after attending a U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York later this month. We imagine his students might see him a bit differently this time around.
It's a fascinating tale, but also a familiar one. Somalia's U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government, which controls little more than the capital, Mogadishu, has a penchant for recruiting Somalis living modestly abroad to serve as top government officials in a country that hasn't had a functioning central government since 1991, when many of the recruits went into exile. Last month, the Buffalo News ran a story about Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who had returned to his cubicle and job as a compliance officer at New York's Department of Transportation in Buffalo after serving a nine-month stint as Somalia's prime minister. Mohamed, like Ibrahim, had been offered his post unexpectedly after traveling to the U.N. in New York to interview with Somalia's president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. His only political experience was working on campaigns in Buffalo. When Mohamed (meeting with Italy's Silvio Berlusconi on right) was eventually forced out of his position in a power struggle, he requested that his friend Abdiweli Ali, an economics professor at Niagara University in Niagara County, New York, succeed him, at least until a permanent replacement is found (Ali's Niagara faculty bio currently reads, "Dr. Ali has been appointed Prime Minister of Somalia and is currently on leave," but his CV hasn't been updated). Yes, you read that right. Western New York is becoming an improbable breeding ground for Somali leaders.