Connect with us


Review: ‘The Mayor of Mogadishu,’ by Andrew Harding



BBC foreign correspondent Andrew Harding’s book “The Mayor of Mogadishu” opens with an arresting scene: An attack by the militant group Al-Shabab is underway at a mosque in the Somali capital’s government compound. Worshipers are jostling toward the exit. Only one man still kneels in prayer, apparently oblivious to the mayhem unfolding around him.

That man is the book’s complicated subject, Mohamud “Tarzan” Nur, a Somali expat who served as Mogadishu’s mayor in the early 2000s, as the city edged out of Al-Shabab’s control and into a state of fragile near-normalcy. Through the story of a man who took one of the world’s most dangerous political gigs, Harding traces the turbulent modern history of Somalia — a place where the author dodges bullets, discovers remarkable resiliency and glimpses striking beauty amid the ruins of the onetime “Pearl of the Indian Ocean.”

Through elegant writing and dogged reportage, Harding sets out to introduce Nur, a man steeped in contradictions and controversy.

In a sense, Harding tackles a mystery: Is Nur a brave and principled patriot or a charismatic opportunist with a carefully crafted public persona?

One of the first stories Nur shares with the author — that his mother delivered him in Room 18 of a beachfront hospital ­­— turns out to be a lie. In fact, he was born under a tree in the nomadic Ogaden region and grew up in a gritty Mogadishu orphanage, where he earned his nickname after sneaking out a window and swinging from a tree.

Before his homeland descended into civil war, Nur left for Saudi Arabia in search of opportunity. He eventually settled in London with his young family.

In 2000, he returned to Mogadishu to take the mayoral job, tapped for it as the self-described “leader of the diaspora.” There, Nur proved adept at restoring a measure of normalcy and eluding Al-Shabab attacks. He was somewhat less adept at dodging the capital’s relentless mudslinging, clan politics and questions about government corruption.

Nur, who is now running for president of Somalia, insists he is an open book. His trademark phrase echoes the recent U.S. presidential election: “Believe me.” But he remains guarded and slightly aloof, and that’s Harding’s main storytelling challenge throughout.

As is often the case with nonfiction whose tough-skinned main subjects never quite open up, the book can leave some readers wanting more. But Harding perseveres, filling in gaps in our understanding thanks to Nur’s likable wife, Shamis, and a brother living in Indiana.

Harding also assembles a strong cast of supporting characters — fellow expats who in recent years have flocked back home to help rebuild, get a taste of adventure and make money. Even as Nur remains a bit of a mystery in Harding’s book, a fascinating, guardedly optimistic portrait of contemporary Somalia comes into sharp focus.

Source: Star Tribune
Mila Koumpilova covers issues of immigration for the Star Tribune.


4th Grade Somali American Teacher Pens Children’s Book For Somali Youth



WCCO – CBS Minnesota — Mariam Mohamed said she wrote “Ayeeyo’s Golden Rule” because there weren’t many books for Somali children to read and see characters who look like them

Continue Reading


‘Adua’: A New Novel Reflects on the Colonial Legacy of Italy and Somalia



An atmosphere of unrest has dominated so much of our public discourse as of late. The uncertainty over the future of DACA recipients has sent shock-waves of anxiety throughout our immigrant communities. And a renewed emphasis on patriotism and protest has reignited longstanding debates over what it means to be an American.

While these might seem like quintessential questions of the American “culture wars,” these issues of identity and society are felt deeply across the remnants of the colonial world, where Western nations continue to grapple with the historical repercussions of displaced populations.

Italy is a prime example of imperialism’s ongoing legacy, where hundreds of thousands of African migrants have looked to as a point of entry to a new life in Europe. But while the burdens of the migrant crisis have strained Italy’s ability to define what it means to be Italian, the uptick in refugees has revealed long-simmering wounds in the post-colonial social fabric.

Novelist and journalist Igiaba Scego is a second generation Italian born to Somali immigrants. Her new novel, “Adua,” puts into stark focus Somalia’s relationship with Italy, in a narrative that spans three distinct time periods, from the 1930s to the present day.

This segment is hosted by Todd Zwillich

Continue Reading


Somali refugees in Tower Hamlets share life experiences in new book



For centuries London has been a beacon for those seeking to carve a better life for themselves, whether economic migrants hoping for a change in circumstances, or refugees fleeing terrible wars.

We often reflect on their journeys to the capital – watching news reports of desperate, dangerous voyages – but what of their lives after they have arrived?

Cynthia Cockburn’s new book Looking to London: Stories of War, Escape and Asylum explores just that, delving into the experiences of female refugees including Somali women who settled in Tower Hamlets.

The gender, war and peacemaking researcher was inspired by her own background – having moved to London from the East Midlands as a ‘labour migrant’ aged 19 – and chose to highlight experiences from the city’s Kurdish, Somali, Tamil, Sudanese and Syrian communities.

“I chose women I knew to have come from countries caught up in terrible poverty and conflict – women who were not just ‘migrants’ but ‘asylum seekers’,” said the author, honorary professor at the University of Warwick’s Centre for the Study of Women and Gender, and City University London.

Researcher and writer Cynthia Cockburn’s new book is about the experiences of female refugees living in London. Picture: Pluto Press

“All their stories are of suffering and loss, but the accounts I can’t get out of my mind are those in which the pain was deliberately inflicted – accounts of imprisonment and torture. Having said that, good things happen in this book too – lives are regenerated, some lost loved ones are found.

“I think most of us reading the papers and watching the news are shocked by the stories from war zones and migrant camps, we feel sympathy with those people ‘out there’.

“But it’s important, I feel, to connect more directly to those events, by being aware that many of the people on the street around us in our London neighbourhoods were not long ago the subjects of those newscasts and deserve that same sympathy. But more than that, we have so much to learn from their survival skills.”

One chapter is dedicated to sharing the stories of three Somali women – two in Tower Hamlets, one in Brent – all of whom have “suffered greatly from the country’s history of drought and famine, its deadly clan conflicts and, in recent decades, religious extremism and terror”.

Researcher and writer Cynthia Cockburn's new book is about the experiences of female refugees living in London.

Researcher and writer Cynthia Cockburn’s new book is about the experiences of female refugees living in London

Hinda Ali, who is now in her forties and living in Stepney Green, moved to London in 1998.

She grew up in the midst of conflict, and Prof Cockburn mentions in the book a particularly dangerous time when the family locked themselves in their home for a week, with no food to eat, while hundreds of bodies piled up in the street.

But worse was to come, and in 1993, when Hinda was 20, her father was shot in the head while trying to break up a fight.

The daughter and two of her brothers were sent to live with an aunt in Kenya, walking and travelling by bus for seven difficult days. But Hinda didn’t feel safe there either.

Abdi Hassan, director of the Ocean Somali Community Association (OSCA). Picture: Cynthia Cockburn

Abdi Hassan, director of the Ocean Somali Community Association (OSCA). Picture: Cynthia Cockburn

She described the journey to Prof Cockburn: “We had very little money, barely enough to eat. We were scared of the Kenyan soldiers.

“It was particularly dangerous for a woman, a young woman like me. They can so easily rape or kill you. Rape is a big issue for us. You are punished for being raped. In Somalia, when you think of rape, you think it would be better to die.”

Another aunt lived in London and sent money to Hinda to arrange passage to the UK. She was able to feel secure for the first time in a long while, and now has a husband and six children.

She feels lucky to live in Tower Hamlets, which has a large Bangladeshi community as well as many Somali families, mostly of Somaliland’s Isaaq clan.

Women's officer Khadra Sarman, from the Ocean Somali Community Association (OSCA). Picture: Cynthia Cockburn

Women’s officer Khadra Sarman, from the Ocean Somali Community Association (OSCA). Picture: Cynthia Cockburn

“I love living in Tower Hamlets,” she says in the book. “I feel like I’m safe here.”

Looking to London, published by Pluto Press, is out now, priced £16.99. Visit

Continue Reading