LONDON (AFP) – Somalia’s acting National Olympic Committee president Duran Farah told AFP he is aware of the danger he is in but he is prepared to risk all as he carries on his work trying to rebuild his country’s sporting infrastructure.
Farah, in his early forties and who moved to London from Somalia in his late teens, had the dangers brought home to him on April 4 this year.
Then NOC President Aden Yabarow Wiish and Somali Football Federation chief Said Mohamed Nur were among six people killed by a female suicide bomber at Mogadishu’s newly-reopened national theatre in an attack claimed by Al-Qaeda affiliated Shebab rebels.
Somalia has been in political chaos and deprived of an effective central government since the fall of President Siad Barre in 1991.
However, a new administration took office in September, ending eight years of transitional rule by a corruption-riddled government.
“I had never before missed an event with the president,” he told AFP.
“I don’t know if it was fate but I woke up late that morning! I can still recall the last time I heard his voice.
“The president rang me about eight in the morning ‘where are you he says?’ and when I reply I have just woken up he says ‘no don’t worry stay there, don’t come now as the roads will be sealed off. See you at lunch’.
“A little while later a colleague rang me and asked if I was at the theatre…” he adds, his voice trailing off.
However, Farah was undeterred by that tragedy and has carried on the work that had been started by Wiish and himself.
“We (he and fellow NOC members) decided if you leave it like that and drop everything then the country won’t develop.
“One has to make sacrifices. However, mine are nothing in comparison to another former London boy Mohamed Nur, who has made changes you cannot imagine since he became Mayor of Mogadishu in 2010.”
Farah, a smiling and cheerful character though also extremely humble, said that he along with colleagues had devised a four year strategic plan for rebuilding Somalian sports, which is quite a challenge with not one running track in the country.
However, his priority is by starting to change the attitudes of the children before attempting to attract outside investment by governments and expatriates who have been successful abroad to fund the facilities can be built.
“UNICEF’s latest report revealed that less than 20% of Somalian children go to school. There is a high rate of illiteracy and unemployment which makes them vulnerable to joining gangs, militias or the pirates,” he said.
“A lot have lost all hope and are lost to society. However, sports can play a role not just in getting them involved physically but in rehabilitating them and also if we can establish some sort of league it gives them another sort of allegiance, to a team rather than an outlaw gang.
“If we can rehabilitate school and community sports programmes it will give them skills for life.
“We are dreaming of that. Sometimes the dream is difficult to fulfil.”
However, Farah, who is hopeful that a foreign government such as Turkey will help finance the once impressive Chinese-built Olympic Village in Mogadishu which includes a 40,000 capacity stadium, part of which now is the barracks for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops, said Europeans shouldn’t feel smug about the disintegration of Somalian civil life.
“Imagine what things might be like in Europe if the millions of young who week in week out go to support their team suddenly didn’t have that?” he said.
Farah, who will contest the NOC presidential election in January, said that sending some of his compatriots to be trained as sports trainers at the Generations for Peace training camps, set up by Prince Feisal Al Hussein of Jordan, would help to spread the message of how sport can break down political barriers and enmities.
He said that famous sports people such as 1987 1500 metres world champion Abdi Bile and Great Britain’s London 2012 double gold medalist Mo Farah – who was born in Somalia – could help either through acting as role models or by encouraging investment in sports.
Indeed the NOC supremo had his moment of glory too when Farah won his second gold medal in the 5,000 metres in London in August.
“I was sitting beside David Cameron (the British Prime Minister) and he was very excited. I nudged him and said ‘that is one of our best imports to your country’!” said Farah, who praised Britain for their generosity in taking in almost 500,000 immigrants during the troubled last two decades.
Farah, though, is encouraged that his sporting goal can be achieved especially as politically the country has stabilised of late in choosing both a prime minister and a president.
“Sports can cut across all barriers and heal most ills in our country,” said Farah.
“I am very confident that we will achieve our aspirations and would ultimately like to see Somalians being part of a great sporting nation.”