Cultures & immigration beat: A local runs for Somalia's top office

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 10, 2012 - 7:32 PM

There are no bumper stickers. No campaign buttons either. But make no mistake about it, Abdimalik Askar is serious about his bid to become the next president of Somalia.

The "Askar 2012" campaign, launched earlier this year at a news conference in Minneapolis and broadcast online around the world, includes a slogan he coined himself: "Rebuilding Somalia."

That Askar lives here in Minnesota and not in Somalia, where the next president will be chosen in August, doesn't trouble him.

About half the candidates live outside the war-torn East African nation. That includes about 10 hopefuls who call the United States home.

"I have seen many people from the U.S. or from Minnesota run before," said Saeed Fahia, executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota who knows Askar and is following the race.

That's not surprising when you consider that Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the country. Last year, the candidates even held a debate in Minnesota, Fahia recalled.

Most Somalis in the know say a political novice such as Askar doesn't have much of a chance of becoming president. Especially since ordinary people aren't the ones voting. Members of Somalia's parliament will choose the next president.

Askar, 36, of Minneapolis, says he is running because he thinks he can help his native country.

A familiar face among many Minnesota Somalis, he is the former host of Somali Media, a cable-access TV program. These days, he's working as the show's producer.

He's lived in Minnesota since 1993 and was among the first wave of Somali refugees to settle here. For years, he said, he's watched with horror and sadness the deterioration of Somalia. Schools and hospitals are few and far between, and violence and famine have put more lives in peril.

Then this year, he said, "I thought I have to do something." So he joined the Somali presidential race.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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