The new president of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, deepened his understanding of building peace in traumatized societies in three classes taken at the 2001 Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) held at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).
“We wish the best for you as you work to secure the peace, promote stability, and restore prosperity to the people of Somalia,” said EMU president Loren Swartzendruber in a congratulatory letter dispatched to President Mohamud on Oct. 4.
Challenging the incumbent, Mohamud was the come-from-behind winner in a run-off election that ended Sept. 10, 2012. He was inaugurated on Sept. 16.
“We are honored that you attended our Summer Peacebuilding Institute in 2001, and hope that some of what you learned during that time will serve you well in the coming months and years as you work with the very difficult issues that Somalia faces,” wrote Swartzendruber.
Mohamud arrived at SPI 2001 as an educator who was interested in how to engage civil society in building his country. He was encouraged to attend SPI by Khadija Ossoble Ali, a native of Somalia who completed her EMU master’s degree in conflict transformation in 2001. Mohamud’s attendance was facilitated by scholarship funding provided by SPI.
Joining 182 people from 45 countries at SPI 2001, Mohamud took classes in trauma healing, mediation, and adult-centered education techniques.
During the era when Mohamud attended SPI, he was dean of the Somali Institute of Management and Administration Development, which prepared mid-level management and administrative technicians for reconstructing Somalia, according to his official online biography. He was also a researcher for the Center for Research and Dialogue, focusing on post-conflict reconstruction of Somalia.
In 2011, Mohamud founded the Peace and Development Party, the platform from which he launched his bid to be president.
“The election of Mohamud, a former UNICEF adviser with an unsullied reputation, appeared to give even the cynical hope,” according to The Toronto Star.
The BBC called Mohamud a “peace activist and educational campaigner,” who remained in Somalia during more than two decades of civil war, “unlike many other Somali intellectuals.”
“Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s dogged determination not to give up on Somalia despite years of conflict, warlordism, piracy and Islamist insurgency has finally paid off,” added the BBC.
Mohamud regularly spoke on a weekly BBC-Somali program, stressing the importance of including civil society groups in the “roadmap to peace.” His election may be one of the outcomes of his determination to follow such a “roadmap.”
As a Muslim who disavows the violent agendas of extremists, Mohamud has experienced threats to his life, including an assassination attempt two days after his election that left casualties among African Union soldiers guarding him.
Mohamud’s election was the final step of a U.N.-backed plan to bring a stable central government to Somalia. The last stable government collapsed in 1991.
“EMU continues to be involved in assistance to Somalia,” noted Swartzendruber in his letter to President Mohamud. “Currently, four Somali women are enrolled in a graduate certificate program in Peacebuilding Leadership at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (along with Somali women from Somaliland and Northeastern Kenya, and women from Liberia, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands).
“EMU has also cooperated closely with USAID’s TIS program that is working with trauma and social reconciliation through our STAR [Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience] curriculum that has already trained more than 800 local trainers who are working with groups in their communities in sixteen districts in Mogadishu,” added Swartzendruber.