Viewpoint: Can the Mo Farah effect help Somalis and Somalia?

Britain"s Mo Farah reacts as he wins the men"s 5000m final at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in this August 11, 2012 file photo.

Mo Farah's double Olympic gold brings a much-needed positive image for the Somali people whose name has unfortunately become synonymous with anarchy and lawlessness.

Somalia has not had a functioning government for more than two decades. Since the collapse of the state in 1991, the country has become a haven for pirates and al-Qaeda affiliated militants, who have seized the attention of the world.

The Somali community in the UK as well as other Western countries has become linked to these scourges, so it comes as a breath of fresh air to have a Somali-born Brit bring such joy to many British households who might have previously had other opinions about Somali people.

I am particularly hopeful that the "Mo Farah effect" can bring Somalis and the different communities here in Britain closer together, to truly appreciate the human aspirations and commonalities we share as part of this melting pot known as Great Britain.

Uniting Mogadishu
Gold medallist in the men's 5,000m Mo Farah of Great Britain celebrates on the podium (11 August) Ethnic Somalis in Kenya are copying Mo Farah's "Mobot" pose

I was in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, for the past two weeks so I unfortunately missed the chance of catching any of the Games live, but I made sure I watched on every TV at my disposal and I wasn't the only one.

At every big screen one couldn't escape from the roaring crowd, all vying to see Mo in action.

People adore him in Mogadishu, and rightly so.

It is his birthplace and most of the local youngsters feel that sense of connection with him.

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The Somali youth... often grapple with finding a balance between their Western upbringing, Somali roots and Muslim faith ”

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While mingling with local people, I noticed the amazing ability of one person to be able to transcend disparities and bring together people who had been separated and turned against each other by power, greed and clan animosity, despite being many miles away.

Mogadishu is a city divided by tumultuous conflict, with most people separated by their political or religious views, but for the brief moments that Mo was on TV, everyone came together, united as Somalis.

And the same was true of Somali-inhabited territories elsewhere in East Africa.

On my way to the UK, I had the chance to make a pit-stop in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, where I visited Eastleigh - a densely populated neighbourhood where nearly all residents are ethnic Somalis.

Here too, Mo Farah was a superhero. Young children were cheerfully shaping the "Mobot" - Mo's signature victory sign.

Muslim prayer

Similar celebrations were taking place online on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Somalia: Two decades of anarchy

  • Been ravaged by war since 1991, when last national government was ousted
  • Much of the country controlled by al-Qaeda linked militants, al-Shabab
  • UN-backed government controls Mogadishu and Africa Union troops have taken some border areas
  • More than a million people have fled to neighbouring countries, plus thousands more to the West
  • Another 1.3 million living rough in Somalia - a third of the population have fled their homes
  • Pirates based in northern areas often seize ships across the Indian Ocean for ransom
  • Parliament supposed to choose a new president next week, tasked with ending the chaos

Somalis were overwhelmed with joy and Mo reciprocated their support by expressing his sense of appreciation for all Somalis, irrespective of where in Somalia they came from or which clan they belonged to.

This, I think, has further lifted the reverence the Somali people had for him.

He chose to appreciate the bigger picture in a deeply divided society and as a result has perhaps created a sense of unity that has long been missing in the Somali community.

Additionally, he has remained true to his religious beliefs, giving a Muslim prayer after each win and thanking Allah for his victory.

This will no doubt restore confidence in the Somali youth, who often grapple with finding a balance between their Western upbringing, Somali roots and Muslim faith.

I am optimistic that his win will shed light on a different kind of role model Somalis can look up to and aspire to emulate, and maybe we might be lucky enough to see more Somali-British youngsters competing in the next Olympics.

Somali athletes Mohamed Hassan Mohamed (R) and Zamzam Mohamed Farah pose for pictures with a London 2012 Olympic Torch during a visit to to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, on 10 August 2012 Somalia's Olympians said they were inspired by Mo Farah

He is already an inspiration to Somali Olympians Zamzam Mohamed Farah and Mohamed Hassan Mohamed, who competed in the London Olympics representing Somalia.

They both cited Mo, saying they have tried to emulate him since they caught sight of him in the last Olympics in China.

Mo's display of his faith portrays to the rest of Britain that Somalis can remain true to their beliefs while fully integrating with the wider society, which will hopefully counter-balance the common association of Muslims with fundamentalism.

It is precisely for these reasons that I think Mo will remain dearly cherished by all Somalis both inside the country and in the diaspora and I hope his effect will stretch wide enough for all of them to unite once again.


More on This Story

Somalia: Failed State

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  • rate this

    Comment number 645.

    It's obvious that Somalia does not have a problem with poverty, pirates and crime because of some kind of defective gene, so I really don't understand where this guy is coming from.

    Somalia has the problems it does because it has failed to govern itself with the good of the people in mind, much like many other failed African states.

  • Comment number 644.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 643.

    Christians call him God, Muslims call him Allah. One and the same as far as I am concerned, the split in the religions came later.
    People scarred of Islam are scared of militants, and the Christian ones are just as bad.
    Well done Mo, I'm proud of my fellow Brit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 642.

    //Total Mass Retain
    8 Minutes ago
    "West Londoner
    Yes, he has the passport, but he is not as British"

    British is not a spectrum of options: it's a binary yes/no. Someone who has gained a British passport by either birth or naturalisation is British ..//

    Though apparently not when they decide that 'we' have invaded 'their' territory, and decide to attack this country in revenge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 641.

    So Mo makes a few gestures beforehand and prays afterwards. So do many atheletes. I suspect that it because of his religion rather than actions that offends so many. Like those people in the EDL who claim to be on crusade against Islam. How very Christian of you.

    And to add to my earlier post, Bradley Wiggins was born in Belgium, next question please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 640.

    I find it very hard to try and understand everything that you are saying about Mo the double gold winner at this years OL, off which is a great feat for him. 1st he trains in the USA, secondly he has the best coaches and equipment at his disposal, and 3rd a gold medal don't make him British

  • rate this

    Comment number 639.

    If Mo wants to identify with the PC multiculty ideology presented in this article then I lose interest in him and Somalia. I support multiracial sports with a common objective to pursue excellence in fair and equal competition. The multicult experiment is about equality of cultures, not people or athletes, and has no more place in athletics than other political ideologies foisted on to the Games

  • Comment number 638.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 637.

    630.Controlled Pair

    When times were tough I am sure Mo thanked all those you mention rather than the faith he practices every minute of every hour of every day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 636.


    Well said. . . . .You put it better than I did

  • rate this

    Comment number 635.

    @205 gobbledegoo. This is just modern colonialism or more poetically put, Whose Bread I Eat, His Song I Sing.
    Did you eber wonder why not "Brit" is running for Somalia or Pakistan or, or, or..... To be fair that also applies to other past or present colonial powers.

  • Comment number 634.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 633.

    I don't remember all this hoo-ha when i won my schools cross country race.

  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    Mo is NOT British he is a British National, but a good runner yes. As for your comment luckily we live in a democracy, I think you like 90% of Britons are wrong, we do not live in a democracy we live in a two party state in we we pretend we have a democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    10 Minutes ago
    "If someone called John Smith with English parents were born is Saudi Arabia & grew up there would he be considered to be Arab? If John Smith were born in Tokyo and grew up there would he be considered to be Japanese? Unlikely."

    Perhaps, but does this not demonstrate a positive about Britain where we can consider people from a variety of backgrounds one of us?

  • Comment number 630.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    If we cannot question makes someone British then the notion that Olympic support is given to your nation and flag is pointless and should be scrapped when representation can be made by passport applications, assimilation technicalities and tenuous parentage.
    Its OK to say Mo isn't all Brit, but he's a Brit none the less. Some may give him all their support, some less, but support all the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.

    I see no problem with a British Citizen competing for this country regardless of the land of their birth, but I would rather the BBC did not stoke an unnecessary debate about the "value" of such people through their multicultural/PC filters. It hinders rather than helps. Mo Farrar is an example to all of us regardless of the land he flew from to get to this point in his inspiring life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    612. Nick Ebrell - Having lived abroad & worked in multi-national companies I have a no of white & non-white immigrant friends & families. Also lucky enough to go to games & enjoyed the flag waving & what it should of GB. The majority of GB don't have a disconnect with Mo or Wiggo & others that's all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    421.United Dreamer
    Clearly not paying attention at the back. As I even wrote it it has nothing whatever to do with race, as usual the PC want it to be. Nationality is not race, it is only ancestry/tribe/family. Only the PC mad claim race is the same as nationality.


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