Published On: Fri, Apr 7th, 2017

US Ambassador to Somalia Visits Lewiston

The first U.S. ambassador to Somalia in 25 years came to Lewiston Thursday morning, where he visited Somali-owned businesses that now dominate part of downtown.

Stephen Schwartz also held a community meeting where he told an audience of mostly refugees that he’s hopeful a newly elected Somali government can help turn the embattled nation they fled around.

Somalia is a nation that has been involved in a decades-long civil war. It has had no government or dysfunctional government since the early ’90s, become the target for extremist groups like al-Shabab and now, a widespread drought puts it on the brink of famine.

The United Nations estimates half the population will need humanitarian aid by summer. So when the Obama administration asked him to become the ambassador there last year, Schwartz says he didn’t exactly jump at the chance.

“When they first asked me if I’d be considered for it I was like, ‘Somalia? Really? What’s second prize?’” he says.

But Schwartz says being the ambassador to Somalia is the best job of his life, and he says working with the Somali people is the reason it’s so rewarding.

Schwartz is visiting cities like Lewiston, he says, because he wants to hear directly from Somali refugees and see how they’ve integrated into the community. About 6,000 Somalis have settled in Lewiston and Auburn over the past 15 years. Some of their businesses now dominate a section of downtown known as Little Mogadishu.

Schwartz paid a visit to several of them, including the Global Halal Market where Mahamud Muktar is the owner.

“The most of what I sell is meat, a lot of meat,” Muktar tells Schwartz. “Goat, tripe, camel, all of that.”

Muktar was born in Somalia and arrived in Lewiston in 2004. He says he never expected a visit from the U.S. ambassador, and there’s a lot he’d like to ask about.

“Travel ban, like the problem we’re having right now in the USA and a lot of different situations, you know?” he says.

Many refugees and asylum seekers are anxious about the Trump administration’s travel ban from countries like Somalia. Asked about it at the community meeting, Schwartz said he has had no role in the president’s executive orders, and confessed to being in the dark about them himself.

Others wanted to know about security and living conditions in Somalia, about the U.S. military’s broader authority to carry out military strikes in the country and even about what they say is a climate of discrimination here.

“So we are what’s called a ‘suspect community.’ A lot of times we are associated with bad things,” says Fatuma Hussein, executive director of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine.

Hussein asked Schwartz what could be done to improve the climate.

“This targeted message around Somalis, terrorism, all of this, it’s sad,” she says. “It actually magnifies that fear.”

Schwartz said his visit to Lewiston is a start. He also encouraged members of the audience to get active politically and to support the newly elected president of Somalia in whatever way they can.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed spent much of his life in Buffalo and took office in February.

“He’s an excellent choice by the Somalis and he’s picked a good prime minister and put together a strong cabinet,” Schwartz says. “It’s a very strong team and these are people without a reputation for corruption and with a reputation for getting things done.”

Schwartz says he views the new government as an ideal partner for the U.S. to help create the kind of Somalia that the world would like to see.

About the Author

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

gabadhiireerSudan BaadiGoob300 tuuglaxaday300 ANAASIXRAYNINKA3002 Aabedartii300 arooskaorod300