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 545.

    Wonderful article. I'm sure some may disagree with this portrayal but as someone said earlier - it is the fact that he represents GB that matters to most people. Regardless of colour, faith or background - GB can be seen as a positive force in the world that welcomes everyone. Mo - your runs were an inspiration to us all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 544.

    If he bases himself in the UK, and pays his taxes, he will do a lot for sport generally. As many of them are happy for all the support, but as soon as tyhey make any money, buzz off to some tax haven. Are you listening Mr Hamilton?

  • Comment number 543.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 542.

    @515.Historically there are very few of us (except those living in Wales and Cornwall) who are original "British" and they wouldn't have thought of themselves as that! The rest of us are a mix of Irish, Saxon, Angle,Jute,Viking, Norman, Hugenot etc etc.
    We might like to think of Britain as one entity but the truth is it's always been many cultures and peoples. It's the myth of national identity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 541.

    I think it's the media that are creating a divide amongst the British public, by getting far too obsessed with Mo's achievement.

    Had Mo been treated like every other athlete, then there would be little issue. As it is, he's currently bigger than our greatest Olympian, Chris Hoy.

    It's plain to see that the BBC love him right off, but the only reason for this appears to be due to his ethnicity

  • Comment number 540.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 539.

    I have long supported this forum but you cannot expect to hide away from criticism by blocking posts that comment on moderation. I assume you clasify them as off topic. The fact is,however that they are relevant to how the discussion is run and the effect the overzealous moderation is having on the flow of the topic and thus they are relevant to the issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 538.

    Seventeen African athletes have applied to become economic migrants, so Mo certainly inspired them

  • rate this

    Comment number 537.

    519. Nick Ebrell - But my son is a born and bred Brit! 527. Total Mass Retain - Now come on I am willing to let you have your little foibles but to classify The Star as anywhere a serious piece of print left or right, has the sun gone to your head. Scrub that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    rockandhardplace - Yes, yes he was (though possibly a man with just a UK passport, I'm not sure) but that's just it. He gets my support even if his Father wasn't British. My degree of support reflects the connection to the flag. Or must my feelings be denied me and 100% support given to everyone... rather than, I dunno, 95% I have for Mo. As for Ottey's support by Slovenians do you take my point?

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    FAO Koru - The word is 'emigrate.' Those that went to NZ of course won't be Maoris as they are not indigenous to the country whose land it is! Most Kiwis will trace their ancestry to Britain and why some could if they wanted to represent this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    519. Nick Ebrell - do you have the same problem with Nicola Adams her parents were born in the WI or Lewis Hamilton father from WI, or Wiggo born in Belgium, father an OZ? Seriously if your feelings of nationality are based on colour then the England football team is in trouble or if its where an athlete is born you're going to be very disappointed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 533.

    Somalia and Mo are light years apart. 'Till I will kill you' for any reason is gone, then trying to tie Mo to his birth place & help the country is out of the question. Mo is British, not English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh & his alligence lies within those confines. If we become a self English identity then Mo would still be British but could if he wanted become English by becoming a E/citizen

  • rate this

    Comment number 532.

    There is nothing like a row about race to get people at it. I wonder if the fact that Mo is black has anything to do with it. There you go I said it. Mo has done more for this country then most who sit and moan ( me as well ) . Like they say in the best parts of S.E. London " Go on my son ". Also our Mo made proud to be British unlike some of the fools on here

  • rate this

    Comment number 531.

    The legacy is going well then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 530.

    501.West Londoner:
    " he is not as British as the other aforementioned sportsmen."

    You are wrong. Mo came to the UK as a child and went to school in London. That makes a huge difference - he was educated under the English system and took GCSEs and so on. He was coached by Brits and his first races were in the UK - I know people who raced him as 13 and 14 year old.

    He feels British.

  • Comment number 529.

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

  • Comment number 528.

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

  • Comment number 527.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 526.

    520. So how many generations does a family of non-British origins have to be in this country to pass your litmus test for representing Britain or one of the home countries?


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