Challenges confront Somali prime minister and Vanderbilt grad

Abdiweli Mohamed Ali (courtesy Niagara University)

Abdiweli  Mohamed Ali has big problems on his mind these days.

Ali, a Vanderbilt alumnus and prime minister of Somalia, is the guiding force as his nation seeks prosperity after decades of religious conflicts, civil wars and colonial subjugation. Obstacles include a devastated economic infrastructure, the collapse of some state institutions and the disruptions of pirates and radical groups.

“My first priority is to bring back the rule of law,” Ali said in an email interview with myVU. “Without security there will be no economy and no production. I am working now on a security stabilization plan for Somalia.”

Ali received some of the training he’s now using at home at Vanderbilt. He was a student in Vanderbilt’s famed Graduate Program in Economic Development in the late 1980s. His master’s thesis was titled “The Possibility of Tax Reform in Somalia.”

“His thesis had immediate policy implications for his country and brought out (his) skills at integrating economic theory with the need for policy reform,” said Andrea Maneschi, professor of economics and director of the GPED program while Ali was a student.

Ali went on to attend the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard before returning to Somalia and getting involved in politics. He has never hesitated to give Vanderbilt and GPED their due credit for his development.

“I have a fond memory of Nashville and Vanderbilt,” Ali said. “It was the best time of my life in America.”

He hopes his efforts will help his homeland offer the same kind of memories to its people and visitors in the near future.

“Somalia is more than pirates and hunger,” he said. “We are a proud nation with a long history, a rich culture and a dignified people. A handful of criminals should not be the barometer of a proud nation.”

Ali was confirmed in June as the prime minister of the Somali transitional government. Elections are scheduled for August of 2012.

“We were filled with great pride when we learned that Abdiweli Ali, one of our own, has returned to Somalia to face head-on the formidable challenges posed by the current conditions in his native country,” said Kamal Saggi, current director of the Graduate Program in Economic Development. “Of course, the news that Abdiweli would put his university career in the United States on hold to return home, at this time when he is needed most, came as little surprise to his Vanderbilt contemporaries as improving the economic, political and humanitarian conditions of Somalia has long been at the center of his interests and aspirations. We wish him the best in all his endeavors.”