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.

Start Quote

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

End Quote

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

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
 

Page 7 of 33

 

More Africa stories

RSS

Features

  • chocolate cake and strawberriesTrick your tongue

    Would this dessert taste different on a black plate?


  • Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George leaving New Zealand'Great ambassadors'

    How New Zealand reacted to William, Kate - and George


  • Major Power Failure ident on BBC2Going live

    Why BBC Two's launch was not all right on the night


  • Front display of radio Strange echoes

    What are the mysterious sequences of numbers read out on shortwave radio?


  • A letter from a Somali refugee to a Syrian child'Be a star'

    Children's uplifting letters of hope to homeless Syrians


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.