Man sets sights on Somali premiership

;MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – For years, Abdurahman Ali Osman worked behind the scenes on creating Somalia’s fragile government. Now he wants to lead it.

The St. Paul man is among a handful of Somalis in line to become prime minister in Somalia, where the premier stepped down last week amid growing violence after losing a power struggle.

“I am confident that I am someone who can produce change in a peaceful way,” Osman said this week, just days before he planned to leave for the southern Somali city of Baidoa, home of an interim government that was formed in 2004 with hopes of ending a civil war that began in 1991.

As many as 60,000 Somalis have found refuge in Minnesota, including many of the country’s elite, who for years have shuttled between the Twin Cities and Somalia as part of efforts to form a stable and lasting government there. Their hope is that the country will become stable enough for them to return for good someday.

Osman helped negotiate as clans vied for power in the temporary government and once worked as a political adviser to the former prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi. President Abdullahi Yusuf must name a successor within 30 days of Gedi’s resignation, giving Osman just weeks to make his case.

Dahir Jibreel of Minneapolis, who worked as Yusuf’s chief of staff for more than two years until returning to Minnesota, said Osman is one of six or seven people Yusuf is considering for the job.

Jibreel said the next prime minister must have the support of not only Yusuf but also the United States, the U.N., the European Union and neighboring countries such as Ethiopia. Osman is also from the Abgal clan from which Yusuf wants to choose a successor, Jibreel said.

“By this criteria, Abdurahman scores high,” he said.

Osman said the country must be secure, reconcile its political factions and address growing humanitarian needs. “Sixteen years of civil war is too long and needs to be settled, but we need the help of the international community,” he said.

Osman’s reputation suffered a blow when he went to work as a spokesman for the Council of Islamic Courts, an Islamist militia that took power across much of southern Somalia last year before being ousted. Remnants of the militia continue to fight on, and thousands of civilians have been killed.

Osman said he cast his lot with the group because he believed it would be moderate and bring badly needed stability to the country. The Islamists also overthrew the hated warlords who ran Mogadishu. However, after the organization was widely blamed for the murder of a Swedish journalist and other atrocities, Osman quit his post.

“This is wrong,” he recalled thinking. “This is not Islam.”

Even so, Osman’s connections with the secular government and the moderate forces within religious groups could help his cause, Jibreel said.

“Whoever becomes prime minister has to have credentials of creating good reconciliation among Somalis, and he has some affiliation, or background, with religious groups and can use that as leverage in bringing some of them on board – the moderates, not the radicals,” Jibreel said.

He added: “So, from my perspective, however awkward that was, it could be a positive point for him.”

Osman, a U.S. citizen, came to the United States in 1983, graduated from Sacramento State and eventually moved to Minnesota in 1999 to be near relatives of his wife, Saido Hassan, a St. Paul nurse. In Minnesota, he has worked as a business consultant, a consultant to the city of St. Paul and Ramsey County and as an interpreter for the state Supreme Court.

His life in the Somali diaspora has also led to stays in Kenya, Djibouti, Malaysia and other countries.

“In terms of experience, I am someone who understands the global view,” he said. “I see the suffering in Somalia and then I come back to Minnesota and see how things are functioning – how things work. And I get a little jealous about it.”