Ilhan Omar was greeted with vigorous booing during a July 2 concert featuring Somali singer Suldaan Seeraar in Minneapolis. The booing was so profound and so sustained that it was impossible to mistake it for cheering, or all the thumbs down for thumbs up. It reportedly went on for ten minutes or more, punctuated with, “Get out!” and “Get the fuck out of here!”
Ilhan smiled, gesturing at the crowd to tamp it down, as though the adulation was just too much. Her husband, Tim Mynett, stood at her side looking awkward and confused, then someone who seemed to be a concert manager gestured at the crowd more emphatically to tamp it down. Some say the booing went on even longer while Ilhan went through the process of presenting Suldaan Seeraar with some sort of award.
The singer shifted uneasily from one leg to another, seeming startled and unsure what to do, then reached out to gesture at the crowd, also asking them to tone down their gestures of disapproval. This seemed to be more than he had bargained for when he agreed to share the stage with the congresswoman.
Seeraar is extremely popular in the Somali community and was playing to a packed house; he’s unaccustomed to boos. This was his first concert in North America and he’s likely unfamiliar with Ilhan’s record in the House and on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Global Human Rights, where she serves as vice chair. (Karen Bass currently chairs the subcommittee, and vice chairs the National Endowment for Democracy, the regime change wing of the US government, and is all but certain to become the next mayor of Los Angeles come November.)
Ilhan, an African immigrant and the only Black person on the subcommittee besides Bass, is a shoe-in to become chair if Democrats hold onto the house, unlikely as that may seem.
Many Africans shudder at that thought, however –– not only in Somalia, her country of origin, and the rest of the Horn of Africa, but also in the African Great Lakes Region and in diasporas from both regions.
When I organized a Twitter space discussion with Somali American activists on Ilhan’s record, I heard an outpouring of anger not only over her perceived neglect of her district, where violent crime is surging, but also over her role in the removal of Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and support for a candidate affiliated with her personal clan. This was but one of examples of the congresswoman’s role in advancing US meddling in the Horn of Africa.
In October 2021, Ilhan traveled to Rwanda as a guest of its authoritarian president and war criminal Paul Kagame, a darling of global elites. She then proceeded to vote against a House resolution to call on Kagame to free political prisoner Paul Rusesabagina.
David Himbara, a former economic advisor to Kagame, and Tom Zoellner, author of Rusesabagina’s biography, slammed Ilhan in a Minnesota Post op-ed, writing that her relationship with Kagame threatened “to throw her entire stance on the U.S. criminal justice system into a light of hypocrisy.”
With regard to the Ethiopian civil conflict, Ilhan has directed her criticism squarely at the government, even as it defends Ethiopia from attack by the US-backed Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which ruled the country brutally for 27 years, from 1991 to 2018, and waged war against Eritrea.
On April 7 of this year, the congresswoman met with former TPLF Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to “discuss global health security challenges, including the status of the global COVID response, the global hunger crisis, and ways to improve digital technology to broaden healthcare access.”
Tedros has relentlessly abused his global platform as Director of the World Health Organization, in violation of UN rules about political neutrality, to advocate for Tigray — home of the TPLF — as though it were the only Ethiopian region suffering the consequences of the war. He never mentions the immeasurable suffering caused by TPLF invasions of Amhara and Afar Regions, both of which I traveled through in April and May.
After Ilhan’s meeting with Dr. Tedros, members of the Ethiopian community unsuccessfully demanded that they release the minutes of the meeting.
On several occasions, Ilhan has asked the State Department for “legal determinations” as to whether the Ethiopian government is guilty of atrocities. Meaning, in fact, illegal determinations, because the assumption she has advanced is that the US has the right to rule that international crimes — most of all genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity — have been committed and action must be taken, as in Libya and Syria. According to international law codified in the UN Charter, only the UN Security Council can do that.
On December 21, 2021, while questioning Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee, Ilhan requested an illegal “legal determination” regarding Ethiopian atrocities, called for an arms embargo on Ethiopia, which would make it unable to defend itself, and proposed a “carrot and stick approach” to bringing Somalia to heel.
On April 27, Ilhan voted to pass H.R. 7311 – Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act, along with all the rest of the House Democrats and all but nine Republicans. H.R. 7311 directs the executive branch to bully African nations with sanctions and withdrawal of foreign aid if they get too close to Russia, and to “invest in, engage, or otherwise control strategic sectors in Africa, such as mining and other forms of natural resource exploitation.”
The House passed H.R. 7311 roughly two months after 17 African countries either voted to abstain or did not vote on a UN resolution condemning Russia for invading Ukraine, and Eritrea dared to vote no. The African states voting no comprised just over half of the 35 UN member nations that opposed the measure.
House Resolution 6600, a harshly punitive bill that would sanction Ethiopia and Eritrea, is now pending in the House Foreign Relations Committee. According to Ilhan’s constituents, she has not spoken out against it, although she did make a splash by voting against the embargo on Russian oil.
This writer joined a July 6 Twitter space opened by Somali American community organizer Abdirahman Warsame; 294 Somali Americans and a few Somalis — despite the distant time zone — joined the space. Many of the Somali Americans participating were from Ilhan’s Minneapolis district, and some of the younger ones had attended the concert.
Abdirahman told me that activists with the #NoMore Global Movement for Solidarity in the Horn of Africa had planned to get a few front row seats at the Suldaan Seeraar concert to boo Ilhan and that once they started, it was like a match in a haystack.
Everyone in the Twitter space was furious because Ilhan did her best to help the US displace President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, aka Farmaajo, whom they described as a decent, responsible, corruption-fighting anti-imperialist.
Farmaajo had joined Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki in signing the Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Cooperation Between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, which ended the long-running war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and promised a new day of regional cooperation between the three largest nations in the Horn of Africa. It said:
“Considering that the peoples of Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea share close ties of geography, history, culture and religion as well as common interests, the three countries shall build close political, economic, social, cultural and security ties. The three governments hereby establish a Joint High-Level Committee to coordinate their efforts in the framework of this Joint Declaration.”
That, however, was more peace and independence than the US government could tolerate, as many on the Twitter space angrily confirmed. Now, with Farmaajo out of office, the alliance is considerably weakened. The peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea still stands, although the US-backed TPLF keeps skirmishing with its troops on their common border, and Eritrea is helping Ethiopia in its civil war with the TPLF in Welkait.
Ilhan put an enormous effort into getting rid of Farmaajo in a parliamentary election, which many in this Twitter space said was actually clan-based and manipulated by bribery.
Last year, on December, she quote-tweeted a State Department threat to take action if Somalia did not hold elections immediately, stating: “Farmaajo is a year past his mandate. It’s time for him to step aside, and for long overdue elections to proceed as soon as possible.” Her comment was widely republished to make the case against Farmaajo in the US press.
Both the president and the parliament were at that time in office past their constitutional terms. That made Farmaajo interim president, but the states of Puntland and Jubaland refused to recognize his authority. Elections had been repeatedly planned but postponed due to disagreements between parties and lack of election infrastructure. In addition, the Islamist Al-Shabaab was continuing to oppose the existence of a secular Somali state, and the US was still bombing on occasion.
According to those in the Twitter space, Farmaajo had been fighting to establish a direct, one-person-one-vote electoral process to replace the corrupt system of parliamentary election. They said he would have won in a landslide had he succeeded.
As soon as Farmaajo was defeated on May 15 — even before the formal transfer of power — Biden announced a plan to reintroduce troops to Somalia. The New York Times reported the news without raising an eyebrow, but the fury expressed in the 194 reader comments was palpable.
Most commenters were Americans outraged that the US would be introducing more troops anywhere after the Afghanistan debacle, but they also included this response by a Somali American (edited very slightly for punctuation and grammar):
Columbus, OH May 17
Somalia’s federal government just re-elected former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud less than 48 hrs ago.
The former president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo, who was previously a US citizen and resident of Buffalo, NY, has lost the election due to parliamentary bribery, corruption, and foreign nations’ interfering, spending millions of dollars to overthrow Farmaajo. Those nations included Kenya, U.A.E., & others.
It’s not surprising news to witness the Biden administration seeking to have US military presence in Somalia, since Hassan Sheikh’s election because President Farmaajo would’ve opposed it. Furthermore, this move will only increase security risks and destabilize the Horn of Africa. Sending US military troops now to Somalia is unnecessary, and those troops will be viewed as enemies to the nation and its serenity.
The Somalia army has been fighting Al-Shabaab and all terrorist activities within the region. The army are well trained by the US, Turkey, Eritrea, and so on, but the Somalia government is faced with an arms embargo which limits its abilities and its operations. If President Biden wanted to offer solutions or a hand, then the approach would’ve been totally different than resending American troops back into a hostile situation. Former US President Trump’s hands-off position in foreign affairs was exceptionally appreciated.
Also as soon as Farmaajo was gone, and even before the formal transition of power, an oil and gas extraction contract with a US corporation that Farmaajo had blocked was back in play.
The July 6 Twitter space on the booing of Ilhan Omar contained similarly angry commentary by Somali Americans about her imperialist foreign policy positions. After the discussion, several participants sent over the following pointed statements:
I am a Somali woman and I think I would have obtained my rights and my future would have been better in Somalia if I had the opportunity to vote for President Farmaajo, but we didn’t have the one-person-one-vote system that he was trying to put in place. Ilhan Omar is originally from Somalia and she has a daughter my age who can vote for her own president in America. She says she believes in democratic principles and she’s a member of the Democratic Party, but she didn’t support a very important right for me, the right to vote in a one-person-one-vote election.
Is this about the Democratic Party or about US foreign policy toward Somalia? Either way, I feel bad and frustrated that she hasn’t changed that. Why would I expect Joe Biden to understand my problem if Ilhan Omar doesn’t? I contacted my family in America and told them not to give their votes to the Democratic Party or to Ilhan. Our 2022 election here in Somalia was eye opener for us about the Democratic Party policy toward Somalia.
We want to vote here in Somalia. That’s one of my biggest dreams now. –Deeqa
Mohammed Caanogeel, @MCaanogeel1
Ilhan Omar is being used by the Democratic Party, whose foreign policy has been aggressive and counterproductive towards Somalia.
She got booed at the concert for two reasons:
Domestically, she promised the East African community help with gun violence and drugs in our community and she hasn’t helped us with that at all.
Internationally, she undermined our sitting Somali president, President Farmaajo, by tweeting and making speeches that he was no longer the president of Somalia even though the constitution of Somalia gave him legitimacy to continue until another president took over. She was helping the US government undermine this president who had captured the hearts and minds of all Somali people.
Farmaajo enjoyed 90% popularity for good governance. This president introduced reforms into the economy to win debt relief from the IMF and World Bank, but Ilhan voted against debt relief here in the United States.
Farmaajo asked the US to lift the arms embargo so that our army could fight the Al-Shabaab fundamentalists, but Ilhan refused to vote for that.
President Farmaajo was loved for his stability, transparency, and fairness. He made us proud by building the military and making our intelligence one of the top 10 in Africa. He built institutions back after 30 years of war, invited foreign embassies into Somalia, and established embassies abroad.
He became such a role model president that the Somali people bought him a home, library, and offices for future campaigns. Even poor people loved Farmaajo so much that they gave to this fund drive for him.
Ilhan joined US policymakers in rejecting all his good deeds, rejecting what the Somali people wanted, rejecting one-man-one-vote, and instead threatened to cut off aid. She and the rest of the US government seek only the worst for Somalia. As we write to each other, the US military has overtaken Berbera Airport and brought a warship to Berbera shores. -Mohammed Caanogeel
After the booing episode, Fox gleefully hosted Ilhan Omar’s Republican challenger Cecily Davis to mouth meaningless platitudes about how her opponent is “out of touch with her constituents,” claiming “they are ready for change and are seeking someone who represents their conservative values.”
Davis appeared to be completely ignorant about why an audience of Somali Americans might boo their Somali American representative. The same was true of other right-wing outlets who framed the booing as confirmation that Ilhan’s woke identity offends her own community and that their candidate was therefore a serious contender.
Shukri Abdirahman, a conservative Republican who previously ran to unseat Ilhan, also highlighted the congresswoman’s “woke” positions on social issues as a source of local resentment, but also made sure to point to Ilhan “becoming an election-meddling dictator in the foreign affairs of Somalia – a sovereign nation.”
Abdirahman Warsame (no relation to Shukri) told me that some culturally conservative Somalis had told him they were uncomfortable with Ilhan’s defense of abortion and LGBT rights, but no one expressed that discomfort in the Twitter space.
Minnesota’s 5th District is the bluest in the state, so the incumbent merely has to win the August primary to win the election, and she is expected to, though perhaps not by the margin she’d like. However, the House is all but certainly turning red, so the next chair and vice chair of the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee will in all likelihood be someone other than Ilhan Omar.
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