A former Somali prime minister and Minnesota resident who devoted much of his life to rebuilding the east African country’s democratic institutions has died.
Ali Khalif Galaydh earned a reputation as an elder statesman in Somalia after a long career in politics that continued until his unexpected death last month. For roughly two decades he split his time between Africa and his American home in Minnesota, where he taught for several years at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
He was among the first generation of Somalis to obtain advanced degrees and became a key resource for Washington officials trying to navigate the complexities of Somalia as it descended into civil war in the 1990s.
“He was brilliant, he was thorough, he was diligent,” said Steve Moore, who got to know Galaydh as a staffer for then-Sen. David Durenberger. “But he was also sweet and friendly and a wonderful storyteller. So he had both that hard side and that soft side.”
Galaydh died in early October during a visit to Ethiopia at the age of 78. Despite initial speculation that he was poisoned and later reports that he died of COVID-19, his wife, Mariam Mohamed, said the likeliest cause of death was diabetic shock.
Mohamed and her children, who were raised in the Twin Cities, encountered lines of people wishing to pay their respects when they returned to Mogadishu in October. Many told her that Galaydh had given them an opportunity when no one else would, such as when he ran the country’s massive sugar factories in the 1970s.
“I think his biggest accomplishment was how much he wanted to change the lives of those that are forgotten,” Mohamed said.
Galaydh was born in British-controlled Somaliland Protectorate in 1941, learning fluent English at a young age in school. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from Boston University in 1965 and later a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Syracuse University.
“He really felt that he had been gifted with an education and that he owed his people what he could offer them,” said Ruth Goldberg, a friend who met Galaydh while working in Washington in the early 1980s. “And that was the driving force of his life. He could have done other things.”
Upon returning to Somalia in the 1970s, Galaydh was tapped by the military-led government to lead the country’s Institute for Public Administration, then oversee the country’s major government-owned sugar enterprises. He later become minister of industry.
Worried he might be jailed by the country’s dictator president, Galaydh fled the country in the early 1980s for an opportunity with Harvard University in the United States. He later went on to teach at Syracuse.
After founding a telecom company in the late 1990s that established telephone systems in small Somali towns, Galaydh became Somalia’s prime minister in 2000. His time in office lasted roughly a year, but the administration was notable for marking the return of a central government in the country — if a shaky one — after years of civil war.
“The re-establishment of the central government of Somalia in many ways I don’t think would have happened if it hadn’t been for Ali,” Moore said.
Ahmed Samatar, a professor at Macalester College who ran for president in 2012 when VGalaydh was seeking to be speaker of parliament, said Galaydh’s administration had public support but lacked institutional mechanisms needed to run a government, many of which had been wiped out by war.
“The new regime had no legs to stand on, really,” Samatar said.
As prime minister, Galaydh traveled to Washington after the Sept. 11 attacks to urge U.S. leaders not to bomb Somalia — which had been suspected of harboring terrorists, according to a 2002 Star Tribune article. The Somali president at the time moved to push Galaydh out as prime minister.
“For both of us, really, the burning burden has been to help Somalis overcome this cataclysmic historical failure of civil war and destruction of civic life,” Samatar said.
Galaydh then became a professor at the Humphrey School from 2002 to 2007 — returning frequently to Somalia.
Toward the end of his life, Galaydh became increasingly focused on reforming the government in the northern part of the country, Somaliland, which considers itself an independent nation.
Galaydh became president in 2014 of a disputed territory known as Khatumo State, which is also claimed by Somaliland’s government. After first seeking to incorporate Khatumo into Somalia’s central government, Galaydh then sought to reform the Somaliland government to be more inclusive of the Khatumo region, Samatar said.
“He was working hard to unify all parts of Somaliland,” Samatar said.
Mohamed said her husband was a compelling orator who skillfully wove poetry into his speeches, and a voracious scholar who amassed a library of thousands of books.
“He knew American history well, he knew western history well, he knew Somali history well,” Mohamed said. “He was an amazing man who really, if you sit with him, you just want to listen the whole day.”
In addition to Mohamed, of Shoreview, survivors include sons Warsame of Minneapolis and Waleed of St. Louis Park and daughters Aisha of Shoreview and Milgo of Washington, D.C.