'Our Prime Minister' returns to NU
From lecturing and grading papers, to building a new government for a struggling African nation, NU economics professor Dr. Abdiweli Ali is making news on campus and around the globe.
For those who still haven't heard, on June 23 Ali became the prime minister of Somalia. NU has given Ali an extended sabbatical to fulfill all that position requires.
Ali recently returned to the U.S. to meet with the United Nations, but he also found time to visit his home away from home “ Niagara University.
On Monday, Sept. 17, Ali informed his Purple Eagle community of the circumstances in Somalia and what his plans are for the future.
The day before returning to NU, Ali also spoke at the University at Buffalo along with former Prime Minister of Somalia Mohamed A. Mohamed, who lived in Grand Island.
The conference was supported by the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York and the Somali Community of Buffalo.
During both events, Ali explained the current situation in Somalia, how it arose, and what his plans are for fixing it.
After being introduced by Levesque at NU, Ali began by addressing the crowd as not the prime minister of Somalia, but as a Purple Eagle associate professor of economics.
Some of the biggest challenges the Somalis are now facing are surviving through famine and dealing with terrorist extremist groups.
Up to half the population of four million people are now facing the prospect of starvation, Ali said.
Somalis continue to seek refuge in Somalia's capitol city of Mogadishu and in its neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Kenya.
There have been refugees in Northern Kenya since 1992 ¦ and they are still there and newer refugees are pouring in, said Dr. Faud H. Sheriff, MD, FACP, who spoke at UB.
Sheriff had recently visited refugee camps in northern Kenya and described the scenes he witnessed.
There is the stench of decomposing bodies. There is death in the air; you feel it. You have to be there to feel it. ¦ We saw decomposing animals all over the place. Even the camels are getting stuck. Even the camels are dying, he said.
He showed the audience a photo of a very thin Somali woman holding a child.
This lady outside the camp, she held my shirt and pleaded with me for a little bit of water. I asked her about her husband, about her children and she just broke down, he said.
Ali said the famine is a man-made disaster for two reasons.
No. 1, we are destroying the environment, he said. Ali explained that Somalia used to have a cyclical drought even 10 years. Now, after environmental damage, droughts happen every two years.
The second reason is that extremists, such as the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group Al-Shabaab, denied food aid to those affected by the drought. Therefore, drought led to famine.
In order to counter these obstacles, Ali insists that security and law, reconciliation of political outreach, drafting a constitution that will lead the country to democratic governance and humanitarian assistance are what Somalia needs most.
As I stated here today, I ask from the international community and all my friends for the support necessary to deliver the humanitarian relief and security that are vital for stabilizing Somalia, Ali said at UB.
Ali also explained that Somalia's basic institutions collapsed and must be re-established.
What matters is to have basic, stable institutions and once you lose that you lose everything, said Ali.
The most difficult challenge that we have in Somalia today is to rebuild those institutions, he said.
He also believes these establishments must promote human rights and democracy.
Although Somalia is almost free of extremist groups today, Ali said those areas still occupied by them need the most help.
Not only does he have to rid the extremist activity from his country, but also prevent it from returning.
Without urgent intervention to change the situation, it's estimated that up to 750 000 people will perish in the next few months, said Ali at UB.
Yet, despite these issues that are consistently shown in the media, Ali said, Somalia is not about piracy; Somalia is not about drought; Somalia's not all about famine. Somalia is more than that.
In fact, he said, Even though we are at civil war and we have lawlessness in some parts of the country, other parts of the country (for example the northern part of the country) there's peace and stability.
Somalia failed politically, but economically we didn't. ¦ The Somali business community is doing very well ¦ and that shows you the resilience of the Somalis, Ali said.
We are succeeding in so many different ways, but it's mostly the victims that we see on TV he said.
As far as progress with the humanitarian situation, Ali said, In the last three months, we have been able to establish excellent partnerships, a working relationship between the central government, regional authorities and all Somali stakeholders.
Also, Ali is working on drafting a Somalia constitution, which he hopes will be finished within the next three months.
I'm confident we can move Somalia toward social, economic and political stability, however Somalia's future hangs in the balance so we can not take this job me alone, he said.
Ali said he was proud when he found that the U.S. was the first to respond to the disasters in Somalia, donating $100 million.
I ask the international community, starting with my university, Niagara University, for the support necessary to deliver the humanitarian relief and the security that are vital for stabilizing Somalia, Ali said.
It was clear that members of NU had already begun responding to his request without being asked.
Chair and associate professor of NU's communication department, Dr. Brian Murphy, reacted to the news of Ali's position very strongly.
Murphy explained that he worked for 15 years in Africa as an African affairs journalist and lived in various countries throughout the continent.
During the last eight years, he ran a news agency that covered most of the continent.
Due to his work, Murphy was in New York this summer with NU student interns when he first heard the news of Ali's new position.
(The student interns) were editing away and I got an e-mail on my internal network from one of the editors in Rome in the head office and in their rough language the e-mail simply said, ˜Do you know this guy?' and there was a picture of Dr. Ali with this one line thing, ˜Niagara University.' ¦ I was stunned, completely stunned, he said.
NU student Kerisa Bonville was one of the interns with Murphy at the time. I was stricken with concern for Somalis. The other interns and I immediately took action to jump on computers and help research the current crisis in Somalia. It was during this research that I came across startling images of starving children and learned of the famine of disastrous proportions, she said.
I've learned as the months and weeks have gone by that Niagara University had put on it's webpage the fact that he had been made Prime Minister ¦ but at the time I didn't know that and it wasn't well publicized and I was stunned because it started to hit me, said Murphy. I couldn't sleep. I was like, ˜why isn't think being broadcast to the heavens?', he said.
Murphy sent out a mass e-mail to NU faculty, staff and administrators about the news of Ali.
I tried to alert people at the university that actually this is a really big deal. That it's not every day that a university has it's own prime minister of a nation, he said.
NU Executive Vice President Dr. Bonnie Rose said, My initial reaction was surprise, since NU had posted information about Dr. Ali's appointment as soon as it became public. At the same time, I was excited to learn of Dr. Murphy's enthusiasm, because I already had been thinking about how to launch a further initiative during the summer. My response very quickly turned to excitement and inspiration as it became so clear that so many people were ready to help.
A meeting was held during the summer and many members of the NU community attended.
Afterward, a committee was formed, which includes co-chairs Murphy and University Legal Counsel Stephanie Cole, as well as many other university administration and faculty volunteers. Rose is also very involved.
This is a nation that has known at least 20 years of strife and is now experiencing a desperate famine of epic proportions, and there is a role for a university that prides itself on community service and social justice in a situation like this, Murphy said.
The community has made an initiative statement, which Murphy says is focusing on four points. One is to launch a continuous public awareness program involving posters of Ali with descriptions of Somalia and an image of it.
Another is creating information spaces online to keep the information of Somalia surfacing.
Also, one-page teaching outlines will also be developed on the situation in Somalia.
Lastly, the committee will try and get as many student groups involved as possible in somehow supporting Ali's work in Somalia.
Murphy also noted that institutions and departments could make donations for humanitarian affairs in Somalia.
Donations can particularly go toward NU's relief mission, Mission Somalia “ Niagara 2011, which is through the OXFAM organization.
OXFAM Director of Humanitarian Response Michael Delaney is an NU alum and his organization is on the ground now in Somalia.
NUSGA President Chris Zukas announced that the students of Niagara would donate $5000 to start off Mission Somalia “ Niagara 2011.
Yet Zukas said it will not stop there. It will be much larger than a financial contribution. We will assist the faculty and administration in educating both the students of Niagara and the community of Niagara Falls, he said.
With the support and the commitment of the international community, I am confident that Somalia will overcome the oppressive difficulties and take the path toward peace and stability, Ali said.
The overflow of students at Ali's NU gathering seemed to have a lot to talk about afterward.
Before hand I could only point Somalia out on a map and now my eyes have opened up to this bigger picture and the realization that there are people who need our help. I was unaware of the problems that are in Somalia, said NU student Joshua Miller.
I definitely think NU should take a proactive stance on aid to Somalia “ this is a wonderful opportunity for Niagara students to get involved and make a difference, said NU political science student Emma Jane Olsen.
Rose was very pleased with the reaction from students and the rest of the NU community.
So many people “ students, faculty, committee members and other university personnel all did a fantastic job of organizing both NU's participation in Dr. Ali's event at UB on Sunday, and the event on our Campus on Monday. I was truly moved to see the level of support for Dr. Ali, and the level of interests in the issues that he and his nation are facing.
Levesque spoke directly to Ali while at the NU podium.
We promise you support, not only the financial support, which is important at this time because we are talking about so many of your country people dyeing of starvation and so we promise the money, but we promise you our support. Just as we are side-by-side with you today, we walk with you on this long journey that you have, he said.