By Abdi Sheikh and Katharine Houreld
MOGADISHU/NAIROBI (Reuters) – The mayor of Mogadishu had fled Somalia for Britain as a refugee and earned a master’s degree, citizenship and years of experience as a councillor in London before deciding to return home to help rebuild his war-torn country.
On Wednesday, Abdirahman Omar Osman and nine of his staff were badly wounded when a suicide bomber blew up in his offices. Six of his colleagues were killed..
From his passage to Britain after civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991 to his wounding back at home, Osman’s life story seems to illuminate the hopes and dangers of some of the world’s most divisive political topics: migration and radicalisation.
Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group al Shabaab, which aims to topple Somalia’s U.N.-backed government, claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s bombing, the latest of many such attacks. Osman and nine other people were flown to Qatar for further medical treatment on Thursday, lawmaker Dahir Amin Jesow said.
British communications consultant Richard Bailey first met Osman after he had been appointed Somalia’s information minister in 2010, not long after his return.
“He was living and working in a ministry building that lay beneath a 50-foot radio transmitter mast which acted as an aiming post for repeated Shabaab mortar practice,” Bailey said.
In London, Osman had been a councillor for the Labour Party and Bailey, a former Conservative counsellor, said he used to tease Osman about politics over goat stew and coffee.
Osman was struggling to keep a generator going so Radio Mogadishu could broadcast to a city largely held at that time by al Shabaab. Insurgents frequently targeted the city’s journalists.
Later, Osman served a stint as the prime minister’s chief of staff as African Union peacekeepers helped the U.N.-backed federal government claw back territory outside the capital from the insurgency.
He worked as minister of information for a second time and then was appointed mayor of Mogadishu in 2018, putting to work both his engineering degree and his years of experience working for the housing department in the London borough of Ealing.
Osman – nicknamed Engineer Yarisow (or “the young engineer”) – has tried to clean up the city and construct roads from the rubble, said lawmaker Jesow.
“He was in the middle of constructing Mogadishu streets and roads. He always struggled to tighten Mogadishu’s security,” he said, adding that Osman has always spoken out against militancy.
Al Shabaab has lost territory but kept up a relentless campaign of bombings and assassinations. Osman has introduced more measures to intercept potential car bombs and tried to find land, shelter and jobs for those fleeing the conflict, the British ambassador to Somalia, Ben Fender, told Reuters.
Fender wished Osman and his wounded staff well.
“Eng. Yarisow is a kind and gentle man. His team are young, smart and idealistic,” he said.
(Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Frances Kerry)