At this time last year, Dr. Abdiweli Ali was concerned with teaching Niagara University students the concepts of economic growth and development, international trade, public finance and public choice. Today, the associate professor of economics-turned-prime minister of Somalia is dealing with the reality of those issues while governing a war-torn, starving nation that has been virtually lawless for 20 years.
Dr. Ali, a Somali-American, had been serving as the country’s minister of planning and international cooperation since November 2010. He was appointed prime minister by Somalian President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed in June, after Mohamed A. Mohamed, another Western New York resident, abruptly resigned from the position.
In September, Dr. Ali returned to Niagara to talk about the obstacles facing Somalia, his work there, and the progress he’s made.
His number one challenge is ridding Somalia of its powerful extremist groups, especially al-Shabab, he said.
“The top priority of the government is security,” he said. “Economists talk about the importance of location. In Somalia, it’s all about security, security, security.”
Dr. Ali has made significant strides in liberating the Somali capital of Mogadishu from Al Qaeda-linked extremist insurgents with the assistance of the Somali National Army and the African Union Mission in Somalia.
Stabilizing the country is also a priority, so Dr. Ali is focusing on promoting political outreach and drafting a constitution, which will help in this effort. “The better the institutional framework in a country, the more growth, development and progress that we can make,” he said, adding that “the most important institution a country can have is a good constitution, and that’s what we are working on right now.”
He’s hopeful that the document will be written within the next three months. The timeframe is of particular importance, given that the mandates of Somalia's transitional government expire next August, at which time a new administration will be elected.
Making his work even more difficult is the fact that Somalia is dealing with its worst famine in 60 years. The United Nations has declared six of the states in Somalia to be “famine zones,” many of which are under control of militant extremist groups. It is believed that 750,000 Somali people may die from starvation in the next three months, an epidemic that Dr. Ali blames on man-made deforestation issues that intensified the effects of the country’s drought cycles.
As a result, Dr. Ali has continuously appealed to countries, organizations and individuals worldwide for humanitarian support.
“Somalia’s future hangs in the balance so we cannot make this journey alone,” he said.
The Niagara University community has responded to Dr. Ali’s call for aid by establishing “NU Mission Somalia,” a university-sponsored awareness and fundraising initiative. The project’s objectives are to maintain continuous on-campus awareness of Dr. Ali’s progress in Somalia; develop educational teaching units about Dr. Ali and Somalia that can be built into any class; support the Somali people financially; and harness the creativity of student groups to find new ways to assist the East African country. Already, the Niagara University Student Government Association has pledged to contribute $5,000 toward the effort, and the university has made special arrangements with Oxfam International* to track the number of contributions that originate from Niagara University.
“We promise you our support,” said the Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, Niagara University president. “Just as we are side-by-side with you today, we will walk with you.”
*To make a donation, visit www.oxfamamerica.org/SomaliaRelief. Contributions in $10 increments can also be made by texting OXFAM to 25383, although these donations will not be tracked as part of the NU initiative. For more information about NU Mission Somalia, contact committee chairs Stephanie Cole or Dr. Brian Murphy, or join the “Niagara University Somalia Support” Facebook group.