Ambassador Americo: Bye Kenya, Hello Villa Somalia

Mohammed Ali Nur, also known as Ambassador Americo.  [Benson Guantai / Sahan Journal]

Mohamed Ali Nur, also known as Ambassador Americo. [Benson Guantai / Sahan Journal]

ON A WARM NAIROBI afternoon, one day before he officially vacated office, Somalia’s immediate former ambassador to Kenya, Mohamed Ali Nur “Americo,” gave successive interviews to journalists who kept trickling into his office. It was exactly a week after the Somali militant group, Al-Shabaab, killed 147 people in a dawn attack at the Garissa University College in Kenya’s northeastern region. It was a post-tragedy moment, infused with a sense of urgency and anger, coupled with the media fraternity’s attempt to interpret what this meant for the future of Kenya-Somalia relations.

When Al-Shabaab strikes nowadays – and they have done so more often, killing hundreds of people since 2011, when the Kenya Defense Forces invaded Somalia – it is Americo who finds himself in the middle of it all. He is the man who clarifies his country’s positions, the diplomat plenipotentiary who carries the load of explaining to a vexed public the danger emanating from his country’s borders. Through it all, he dismisses Al-Shabaab’s attacks as “cowardly,” and at the same time, cautions against the maltreatment of ethnic Somalis in Kenya following these assaults.

“We have a long border. We have [a] common enemy. Kenyan forces are in Somalia with AMISOM helping Somali forces. We should not fall for the enemy’s tactics to divide us,” he says.

Easing out of his suit jacket that afternoon, and sporting a pressed white shirt and red tie, Americo projected the image of a man who was tough yet tired, composed yet stressed. After eight years at the helm, he was leaving his post at the embassy while the burden of his message was not yet delivered. Despite the fact that Kenya and Somalia share a lengthy border that stretches for over 680 kilometers, the relationship between the two countries was still pervaded with intransigence and half-heartedness.

“One thing that I always say is that we are really in debt to Kenya: when someone sends their boys and girls and they die for you, you can never replace that.” He went on, “It is something we really appreciate and we are thankful for.”

On becoming ‘Americo’

Mohamed Ali Nur was born on October 12, 1962, in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. His father, Ali Nur, was “a big guy,” a man who passionately practiced boxing, and who worked as a foreman in a borehole company drilling for water. Given Ali Nur’s fondness for cowboy hats, his friends nicknamed him Ali Americo. “That’s why I am now carrying the name,” Mohamed cheerfully admits, even though many people still believe the nickname is derived from Mohamed studying in the United States rather than a name passed down from father to son.

His mother was a housewife who took care of the family’s three boys. Mohamed was the oldest, and he vividly remembers his mother’s patient character, and her readiness to lend a helping hand to their relatives. She died when Mohamed was just nine years old. By then, Mohamed Siad Barre, heading the Supreme Revolutionary Council had overtaken the nation in a bloodless putsch, and with the teachings of scientific socialism, changed the course of the country’s direction forever.

During the Siad Bare years, Mohamed’s father became a businessman, managing a chain of restaurants in Mogadishu and a rental car service. He also remarried and had two boys and one girl.

After finishing high school, Americo the son went on to study at Montgomery College in Maryland, and then to the University of Maryland to specialize in economics. He graduated in 1985, and returned to Somalia to start working as the head of the accounting department at the Central Bank of Somalia in 1986. He stayed in that position until the civil war in Somalia started in 1991. He then left Somalia for the U.S. where he worked before moving to Canada in 2000.

Death and forgiveness

If the story of war is a personal struggle between life and death, then Mohamed Americo has a first-hand experience. In 1988, at the age of 26, he became a father after his wife Deqa gave birth to their first child. (They had married after they met at a friend’s birthday party in Mogadishu.)

When he talks of his family – four boys and four girls – there’s the deep adoration with which he addresses his daughters. And when that happens, the memory of his daughter Yasmin comes into focus.

After the civil war erupted, during a robbery at their house, Yasmin was shot by one of the assailants. When he talks of her, you can sense the gaping hole left inside him in the way he presses his palms, as if to assuage the pain of loss.

In September 2014, while enjoying a cup of coffee with his friends at Lido, Mogadishu’s famous beach, a man approached him. When he asked him whether he was Ambassador Americo himself, he hesitated to identify himself.

“You don’t know who this person is, maybe he’s trying to kill you,” he recalled to me while sitting upright in his office. “Before I answered, I thought about that, but then I said to myself, ‘If this guy wants to kill you, he is there. He’s going to kill you.’ So I said, ‘Yes, I am Mohamed Ali Americo.’ And he said, ‘Adeer, can I sit down?’ – invoking the respectful uncle title in Somali – ‘and I said, ‘Yes. Please sit down.’ And he sat down. His eyes were red, and I thought he was high on something, chewing or doing something.”

The man identified himself and said he was recently deported from Saudi Arabia. He said he was imprisoned there a number of times, and in general, had spent “miserable” years there. After he came back to Mogadishu, he spoke with some religious and clan elders who advised him to seek forgiveness from Americo. He then started telling him of how he was one of the militias who attacked the house on that fateful day, and why he might be part of the reason why his daughter died.

“While he was saying that, my mind went back to 1992. He was talking, but I was gone, and seeing my daughter lying down on the floor,” Americo remembered. “I start[ed] shaking. … I couldn’t say a thing. My eyes became red, and I had tears in my eyes; just numb.”

After that, the man knelt down and started fervently asking for forgiveness. “I grabbed him and told him to sit down. And then I said, ‘I forgive you.’ My friends were sitting there. They were all surprised.”

To Americo’s surprise too, the man then asked, “Adeer, can I give you a hug?” He replied by telling him, “Come.” People were standing there and they started clapping. Him and I, we both cried. That is something I will never forget. I am becoming emotional even just talking about it.”

If anything, it was the singularity of that moment that solidified Ambassador Americo’s pre-eminence amongst the Somali people. It also captured the pain of war and its awful bearing on both those who escaped it and those who remained and endured its disquieting effects.

As Somalia trudges its way back to normalcy, it is unsullied junctures like Americo’s magnanimous act that have come to unite the people of a country who have been at war for two decades.

“Somalia needs reconciliation,” Americo says. “The person who told me that he was part of the people who killed my daughter, I have to give him credit for coming there. He is brave enough.” He says he wants people to talk to each other as a way to get Somalia back on the road to recovery.

“I am not saying justice shouldn’t be done. But people have something in their hearts, and they need to vent out.”

Ambassador Americo has a love for Somali culture, which includes sniffing the bun, traditional roasted coffee beans served on a wooden bowl called kurbin in Somali. [Benson Guantai / Sahan Journal]

Ambassador Mohamed Ali Nur Americo has a love for Somali culture, which includes sniffing the bun, traditional roasted coffee beans served on a wooden bowl called kurbin in Somali. [Benson Guantai / Sahan Journal]

His Excellency the Ambassador

Barely a week after his 45th birthday, on October 19, 2007, Mohamed Americo was appointed as Somalia’s ambassador to Kenya. His appointment may not have been a lucky happenstance than a premeditated one. After the Eldoret/Mbagathi peace process in Kenya, and with the election of the late Abdullahi Yusuf as President of the Transitional Federal Government in late 2004, Yusuf chose Ali Mohamed Ghedi as his Prime Minister. 

Back in Toronto, Canada, Ali Americo the father asked his son to call Ghedi and congratulate him. After passing on their best wishes, Ghedi asked Mohamed to come and work for him.

Mohamed didn’t think it was a good idea. “I said, ‘Yes, Mr. Prime Minister, but I have kids here. I have mortgage to pay. I just can’t come tomorrow,’” he recalls. Then, his dad snatched the phone from him and told Ghedi, “This kid doesn’t even know how privileged he is [for] the Prime Minister to ask him to work in his office. He will come tomorrow.”

A few days later, Mohamed Americo left Canada for Kenya, where the TFG was based at the time. He was appointed the director general of the prime minister’s office. When the transition government later moved to Somalia – based out of Jowhar and Baidoa – Americo stayed behind in Kenya. He was part of the team that re-opened the Somali embassy in Nairobi to provide consular services for the Somalis who lived here. In 2006, when the embassy opened its doors again, he was appointed chargé d’affaires and in 2007 officially named Somalia’s ambassador to Kenya.

Mohamed says that presenting his credentials to the then-President Mwai Kibaki was one of the happiest moments of his career. “My hand was shaking,” he added. “I was shaking.”

Mohamed’s diplomatic career has traced a long arc of a crucial period in Somalia’s relationship with Kenya. Over the last few years, the transitional federal government that was established in Kenya has been replaced with the elected federal Somali government. From the last vestiges of the Islamic Courts Union rose Al-Shabaab, a deadly militant group determined to wreak havoc on the civilians and governments in both countries. And in 2011, the Kenyan army crossed the border into Somalia to deter and defeat al-Shabaab, and in mid-2012, formally joined the African Union Mission in Somalia troops.

Of grabbed embassy land and new passports

After a decade and a half of being shut down, Americo also had the task of reviving the role of the Somali embassy in Kenya. The embassy became the main coordinating office for the United Nations and international non-governmental organizations based in Nairobi but implementing projects in Somalia. The Somali Embassy in Kenya also became the first in the world to issue the new Somali passport, besides authenticating education certificates for those seeking to study in Kenya. More importantly, it also called on the Somali community coming to Kenya to respect the rule of law and abide by their host country’s regulations.

“You cannot just say, ‘I am here and I will do whatever I do.’ As an embassy here, we issue passports, but we don’t give visas and we don’t give anything to be here legally. But we guide you,” Americo said.

For the refugees, the embassy helped them get proper documentation from the UN refugee agency. “If you are [a] student, you can get pupil’s visa. If you are a businessman who is investing in Kenya, you are given legal documents to stay here. So, many Somalis did that and we are happy about that.”

However, the most significant effect of his tenure involved reclaiming the diplomatic property owned by the Somali embassy in Kenya before the start of the civil war. The three-year legal battle exposed the corrupt means in which Kenyan government officials sold the land for pennies, instead of acting as custodians during the war. Americo, with the support of his former deputy, Mohamed Osman, took the case to court and a High Court judge ruled in their favor.

Americo also took over the burden of representing hundreds of thousands of his countrymen who never escaped the shackles of war and despair like he did. After a series of kidnappings, killings and explosions in Dadaab and across Kenya, and with calls from Kenyan government officials to close the camp, Americo has had to tread the delicate balance of negotiating a voluntary return for the refugees in a tripartite agreement signed between Kenya, Somalia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

When asked about this issue, his rejoinder has always been that, despite the harsh circumstances, the refugees want to go home. “Their stay here is temporary and they will go home,” he says, adding, “People want to go back home. Things are changing positively in Somalia even though it is not 100 percent safe. It is much better than it was before. Our people want to go back home and they will go back home.” 

It is statements like these that have also endeared him to ethnic Kenyan Somalis, who have also borne the brunt of discrimination and marginalization in Kenya. During his tenure, many have looked up to him as a voice of reason, the guardian of the general Somali interest in Kenya, the man who knows the intricacies of what it means to be Somali in Kenya.

Many a times, especially after the attacks on Westgate Mall that left 67 people dead, he decried the treatment meted out to Kenya’s Somalis community, testily saying, “These are terrorist groups. Period. They killed Somalis [too]. … Kenya is a sovereign country. Kenyan officers can stop anyone who is in their country and ask for documents. But always going to Somali areas, that’s profiling and we will not agree on that.”

2016 beckons: #AmbAmerico2016

On a brisk Nairobi morning, a few days after he left his post at the Somali embassy, Americo welcomed me to his two-story villa house, which was sandwiched in between a few towering apartments in a Nairobi suburb. His strikingly amiable countenance gave a lot away, as he walked around the house barefoot, spotting a sarong and a white Polo T-shirt. Americo starts his mornings early by driving his children to school. He has resumed jogging (despite the fragility of his right foot, which he once broke in a car accident), and maintains a sense of ambassadorship by hosting dinners for friends and colleagues at his home.

He is also “thoroughly” reading again, he says: over the weekend, he purchased Hillary Clinton’s “Hard Choices,” and Lee Kuan Yew’s “From Third World to First.”

The keen observer can’t miss the significance of the books dotting his shelves: Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “A Team of Rivals”; Nelson Mandela’s “Conversations with Myself”; and “Don’t Be Sad,” a motivational book that has become a mainstay in many Muslim households since its publication by the Saudi scholar Aaidh al-Qarni in 2003.

Americo is also re-reading “We Survived,” a collection of stories from survivors of Rwanda’s genocide, which he calls his favorite book.

He talks about his achievements and regrets: “I was doing my job, and it is really nice when you are liked for what you did. God forbid the other way around. … I am leaving on a high note.”  As for disappointments, he does have only one to report: not visiting Masaai Mara, Kenya’s ultimate tourist destination.

“That’s very tactful,” I say. “Yes, yes,” he replies, laughing heartily. “I know. That’s very diplomatic.”

Amidst all this flawless public façade is a question that has been brewing from the moment he announced he was leaving his ambassadorial duties: will he run for Somalia’s president come 2016?

When you ask him questions about his political ambitions, Americo holds himself ramrod straight. His face becomes serious, and his brows furrow into deep concentration.

“Not officially now, and I don’t want to think about that,” he says without almost thinking about it. Just then, he indulges himself by adding, “Many people are pushing me into that now, and I got really positive responses.”

The weekend after he resigned, Somalis on social media started using the #AmbAmerico2016 hash tag to urge him to run for the top job. (Some compared his campaign to that of #Hillary2016 which was launched in the same weekend too.)

“I am very impressed,” he says about the support. “That shows what people want. But now, as I said, I want to take some time off and spend time with my kids and see what’s coming next. But I am eligible [to be president]. I am Somali.”

Any observer of Somali politics understands that it is a joyless trudge in the minefields of clan politics, tribal machinations, backstabbing, and sweet-talking that don’t amount to actual voting. The one-man, one-vote ideal does not work in Somalia – and it probably won’t do so in 2016. In this case, it will be up to 275 Members of Parliament, who are in turn elected by clan elders, to vote for the next president.

And that’s where the biggest problem with Somalia’s current political system begins and ends. Many pragmatists (and idealists) like Americo have lost before, relegated to the dustbin of history, with many of the lawmakers, at the end of it all, voting based on clan allegiance, or even putting their votes where the trail of money is.

There’s a general lack of appreciation for merit and work ethic when it comes to Somali politics, let alone the feel-good bromides that Americo is known for, or the virtual love sent his way by the Somali Twitteratti. That’s why running for the top job would be a big gamble for him. Given the elasticity of Somali politics, his chances might be modest or substantial. In the next few years, he can rise to be the man Somalis hinge their future on, but yet again, his career can fizzle out just as swiftly as it had started.

Ambassador Mohamed Ali Americo has four daughters and four sons. In the early years of the Somali civil war, he lost a daughter when she was killed during a robbery on their house.  [Benson Guantai / Sahan Journal]

Ambassador Mohamed Ali Americo has four daughters and four sons. In the early years of the Somali civil war, he lost a daughter when she was killed during a robbery on their house. [Benson Guantai / Sahan Journal]

Somali politics and the clan factor

Like many who idealize Somalis’ relationship with the qabiil, at least politically, Americo doesn’t give the clan factor much credit. When the issues of clan politics come to fore, he likes to tell the story of how a distant uncle taught him about his clan lineage while he was studying in the United States. When his father visited him there later on, Americo boasted about how he could recite his family ancestry till his forefathers, and how he now had a firsthand knowledge of his clan.

“My dad slapped me,” he said, breaking into a roaring laughter. “I was very pissed off. And he said, ‘Did I ever teach you about this thing?’ I said, no. He said, ‘You are my kid. You are 19 years old now. Have you heard in our house about this qabiil thing?’ I said, ‘Daddy, no.’ [And he said] ‘How come you are learning it now?’

Yet, despite his protestation, clan is an important consideration in Somali politics and cannot be wished away; it is the catch-22 that decides who gets in and who stays out.

Americo believes that might be changing soon.

“I don’t believe in qabiil, even though the way God made us is based on that,” he said, as he fiddled with his iPhone, while the clinking of glasses and the arrangement of utensils in the kitchen seeped into our conversation. “But the reason we are fighting now is qabiil. That’s why now we are behind and not going forward. And I think if you ask me, this is the moment people are waking up and saying, ‘No qabiil.’ And I am joining there way too. We are all one Somali.” 

He says that with confidence because, with time, Americo has presented himself as a much-vaunted exemplar of what merit can do for Somalia’s embattled political landscape. He has proved himself to be a political lightweight who can punch way above his weight. He is the one ambassador that could: a man whose career will become a blueprint for others; the only one – for now – who will be daring enough to say he can be measured against his work. In the next few weeks, as he goes on an invited tour of key cities in Somalia – starting in Mogadishu, then to Garowe, Kismayo and Baidoa – many expect him to finally put the decision out there in public.

“I am not ruling out the option,” he says, “I like to help my people. I like to do good things for the people but I haven’t decided yet.”

Rolling with my posse

If there’s one group of people who are already besotted with Mohamed Ali Nur Americo, it is the Somali journalists who follow him everywhere he goes in Kenya.

Young, energetic and impressionable, these reporters have played a huge role in creating – and refining – the image behind Americo himself.

Over the last few years, they have recorded every one of his press conferences at the embassy; his tours to Dadaab; his visit to Shimo La Tewa prison in Mombasa, where Somali pirates are jailed; his public calls to release Somalis detained in police cells; his management of the process of repatriating the Somali refugees at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport; and even followed him into hospitals and clinics in Nairobi and beyond where prominent Somali musicians, artists and filmmakers were languishing for inability to pay the bills.

These journalists have also gravitated towards him in part because he has been able to help them settle around as they fled war in their country. (With the exception of Iraq, Somalia is the second deadliest country for journalists, according to the 2014 Committee to Protect Journalists’ Global Impunity Index.)

However, a few of the journalists we spoke to say that Americo is the one who informs them of “everything, including his personal meetings, because he loves to be in the news all the time.”

Americo is a tech-savvy figure, who more than any other Somali politician or ambassador, is given to self-publicity. He has over 12,000 followers on Twitter, over 17,000 on Facebook (a Somali reporter helped him open his account, and he didn’t change the password until a month later), over 2400 followers on Instagram (“my kids pushed me to join it”), and regularly shares photos of his daily activities online.

There are images of him with musicians, presidents, ambassadors, prime ministers and elders; snapshots of him sipping tea in a roadside cafeteria in Eastleigh; photos of him in red Manchester United jerseys (his wife supports Chelsea); or even borrowed images and cartoons highlighting the progress in Somalia’s capital. He even broke the story of his daughter’s death and his forgiving of one of the attackers on Facebook.

Through all these, Americo the serious man has been able to give the public glimpses of Americo the guy next door.

Besides, all these portraits have also combined to shape the image of a charismatic, transparent leader who doesn’t have anything to hide. By using social media, he has been able to mold himself into the leader who has made the Somali story go digital. And that connectedness has had an endearing effect, as one Twitter follower expressed: “He is a digital person and we also need that kind to move forward. Digital means no qabiil and hatred.”

His critics think otherwise. 

Najda Khan, a Kenyan activist who agitated for the 4000-plus refugees imprisoned during Kenya’s Operation Usalama Watch in mid-2014, is one of them. Even after launching the #KasaraniIftar hashtag to get food to those fasting during the month of Ramadan, she says Americo was unreachable. She was especially exasperated because most of the people she was trying to help were Somalis, who were victimized because of terror.

Najda says that it wasn’t until supporters on Twitter talked about the lack of support from the Somali embassy that Americo attempted to show interest. In the end, she says the campaign unfortunately went on without any help from the Somali embassy or government.

“It was hard to work with him,” Najda said, a year later. 

Farewell Excellency

On Sunday, April 12, over 200 Somalis gathered in Nomad Hotel in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area to participate in Ambassador Americo’s farewell party. Women sat at the back of the hall wearing colorful dirac dresses, their faces coated with layers of makeup, their strong perfumes hanging heavy in the air. There were two light blue Somali flags draped over the stage; and as usual, the press corps filled the front row with their presence, obstructing any view of the podium. An elderly lady waved both the Kenyan and Somali flags woven together into a knot.

Americo donned a dark brown sarong, a white shawl and shirt, and black sandals. He grinned at any one, and stood up to greet every one who came through the front door of the hall. 

In presence at the event were businessmen, clan representatives, musicians, teenage schoolboys, mothers, and even former warlords – showing that, even at the very last instant, Americo was still a unifying force amongst the Somali community. The speeches at the event seemed to augur the opening addresses of a presidential campaign, with many of the speakers hinting at what next step Americo will take.

“Whatever has gone by has gone by; it is time to look to the future,” said Musa Sudi, a former warlord and later a minister and an MP, who once ruled entire neighborhoods in Mogadishu with an iron fist. Sudi, sporting a bushy white hair and a full beard, praised Americo’s record as an ambassador, and how he leant an ear to the problems facing the Somali community in Kenya.

“People are already alluding to some things,” quipped Mohamed Ibrahim Shakul, a Somali scholar and businessman, referencing the cries of support from audience members who urged Americo to run. “You were very hardworking, and we wish you the best in what you want to do next.”

Inevitably, the conversation at the farewell party turned to the Garissa attacks, and the consequences that had for the Somali people in Kenya. In the days that preceded the event, the Kenyan government released a list of 86 entities, including both individuals and companies, who were allegedly involved with al-Shabaab. These included key money remittance services, like Dahabshiil, which many consider a lifeline of support, especially to the refugees, who receive financial remuneration from family members living across the world. 

The Kenyan government was also calling for the construction of a wall separating Kenya from Somalia, and the repatriation of the refugees to Somalia.

Just the day before the event, Deputy President William Ruto gave UNHCR three months to move all Somali refugees in Dadaab Camp out of Kenya. “The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa,” Ruto said. Given the country’s collective nationalistic mood following the Garissa attack, it seemed that there was little chance of succor for the refugees.

“I am not happy the tension is higher now. I am worried,” Americo later told me. “You know, with the Kenyan government saying that they want the refugees to leave, the wall that is proposed, [and with] the attacks that happened in Garissa. We all condemned by there are repercussions. There’s going to be profiling, what you call xenophobia. I hope it doesn’t really start.”

Americo said that the Somali community should be more vocal on how they address these issues. But more importantly, he said that Kenya’s relationship with Somalia needs much improvement, a burden that now fell on the back of his successor, Gamal Hassan. 

Ambassador Mohamed Ali Americo said he was “thoroughly” reading again. The day after he left office, he bough Hillary Clinton’s “Hard Choices” and Lee Kuan Yew’s “From Third World to First.” [Benson Guantai / Sahan Journal]

Ambassador Mohamed Ali Americo said he was “thoroughly” reading again. The day after he left office, he bought Hillary Clinton’s “Hard Choices” and Lee Kuan Yew’s “From Third World to First.” [Benson Guantai / Sahan Journal]

An ode for the leader 

That delicate aftermath was captured in a women group’s performance of the buraambur: a piece of composed poetry often praising a person or an event, complete with a mélange of syncopation, ululation, the dum dum dum of a drum, and the women going round in circles, like Sufi mystics in Anatolia, waving dainty umbrellas.

In the opening lines, the leading lady, who chanted the words, posed the question of “who will stand up for Somalis when he leaves?”

She painted a picture of Americo the gladiator, “rescuing” Somalis from the “traps of prison,” praising his leadership skills and “endless compassion.” A hagiography fit for a long departed saint.

All this left Americo dewy-eyed, and one could see that he was also reveling in the moment. “That lady, she made me cry,” he said later, “She was just exceptional. That really made me feel good.” 

For all the delivery and performance, Americo was being praised as a man who was shortchanged, a man being dismissed from his calling. Yet, it was he who asked the Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, to nominate someone else for the position.

“The President was also surprised,” he said. “But I told him, ‘It’s not that I am complaining. It is not that I am not happy. [But] seven years is a lot.’ And I said, ‘I am sure you can appoint someone who can do the job.’”

Americo was in Mogadishu when his successor was announced.

And it is for offering to end his role as Somalia’s man in Kenya while on a high note that Americo is receiving acclaim from all sides.

One of the people who have joined the chorus of praise is the cartoonist Amin Amir, whose drawings, full of biting sarcasm, have haunted Somali politicians for years. Amir’s cartoon commended Americo’s work and his record managing the Somali embassy in Kenya. (A few of Amir’s paintings hang in Americo’s home and former office at the embassy.)

“I called him and thanked him for that picture. And he said he usually listens to people. He said, before he drew this, he talked to many people, and he said he didn’t hear someone say something bad about me.”

If Americo was looking for a mark of validation, an imprimatur for what he had done over the last 8 years, then, the much-feared Amin Amir had given it to him on a silver platter. 

Grandad or Mr. President?

In 2014, while in an interview with a Somali television station in London, the anchor asked Mohamed Americo what he wanted to be in the next five years. “A grandfather,” he replied. “I want to become a grandfather. He expected me to say, ‘I want to become president.’”

Americo’s eldest son is 26 now, and he hopes he will get married soon so that he can have grandchildren. He vividly remembers how his father reacted when he had his first child. “My father said, ‘everyone cannot become a grandparent. A lucky person becomes a grandparent.’ I hope I will reach that time when I can pick up my grandchildren.”

Since he left his position, Americo has grown more comfortable: postulating about life, talking about his love for ugali, and his unwavering support for Manchester United. He has also become chattier, far less ambassadorial, is thinking of working on a memoir, and how he will divide his time between his children in Nairobi and his new home in Mogadishu.

All in all, he comes off with as a charming man. (My photographer, Benson Guantai, said he was one of the easiest subjects he ever shot.) 

Just as we sat down to eat breakfast with him – pancakes with honey and maple syrup, fresh juice, with a choice of sweet Somali tea or coffee – Americo picked his phone to read a text message that came through from a friend.

“I am at the embassy and it’s not the same without you,” it read. Americo’s deputy, Siad Mohamud Shire, was the one filling in the position now as the ambassador-designate, Gamal Hassan, awaits concurrence from the Kenya government.

Smiling with satisfaction, he replied to his friend with a laconic “Ooh.”

I asked him what he thought of that message.

Helping himself to some mango juice, he says, “This is nice. But they have to get used to me not being there.”

Follow Abdi Latif on Twitter: @Lattif

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