The mayor of Mogadishu fled Somalia for Britain as a refugee and earned a master’s degree, citizenship and years of experience as a councillor in London before returning home to help rebuild his war-torn country.
On Wednesday, Abdirahman Omar Osman and nine of his staff were badly wounded when a suicide bomber blew up his offices. Six colleagues were killed.
From his passage to Britain after civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991 to his wounding at home, Osman’s life story illuminates the hopes and dangers of some of the world’s divisive political topics: migration and radicalisation.
Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group al Shabaab claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s bombing, the latest of many attacks. Osman and nine other people were flown to Qatar for further medical treatment, lawmaker Dahir Amin Jesow said.
British communications consultant Richard Bailey first met Osman after he was appointed Somalia information minister in 2010, not long after his return.
“He was living and working in a ministry building beneath a 50-foot radio transmitter mast which acted as an aiming post for repeated Shabaab mortar practice,” Bailey said.
In London, Osman was a councillor for the Labour Party and Bailey, a former Conservative counsellor, said he used to tease Osman about politics over goat stew and coffee.
Osman was struggling to keep a generator going so Radio Mogadishu could broadcast to a city largely held then by al Shabaab. Insurgents frequently targeted journalists.
Later, Osman served as the prime minister’s chief of staff as African Union peacekeepers helped the UN-backed federal government claw back territory from the insurgency.
He worked as minister of information for a second time and was appointed mayor of Mogadishu in 2018, putting to work both his engineering degree and experience working for the housing department in the London borough Ealing.
Osman – nicknamed Engineer Yarisow, or “the young engineer” – tried to clean up the city and build roads from rubble, said lawmaker Jesow.
“He was in the middle of constructing Mogadishu streets and roads. He struggled to tighten Mogadishu security,” he said, adding Osman always spoke out against militancy.
Al Shabaab lost territory but kept up a campaign of bombings and assassinations. Osman introduced measures to intercept potential car bombs and tried to find land, shelter and jobs for those fleeing conflict, British ambassador to Somalia Ben Fender told Reuters.
Fender wished Osman and his wounded staff well.
“Eng. Yarisow is a kind and gentle man. His team are young, smart and idealistic,” he said.