Former Somali Prime Minister Abdirizak Haji Hussein dies

Somalis around the world are marking the death of former Somali Prime Minister Abdirizak Haji Hussein, who died Friday in Minneapolis. He was 90.

Hussein, who led Somalia from 1964 to 1967, lived in Minnesota for the last 20 years. He was a towering figure in Somali history, Macalester College Professor Ahmed Samatar said.

"He was not a man who went to university. He was kind of a self-taught man," said Samatar. "But he was a very, very crafty, extremely intelligent man, and self taught, so he was always improving himself."

In the 1940s and 50s, Hussein was part of the group that worked towards Somali independence. Samatar said the late prime minister was a great leader largely because of his commitment to ethics.

"His record is legendary -- no corruption, either in his office or his cabinet and civil service," Samatar said. "And two, he stressed the importance of competence. And third he was always someone who gave attention to the future - not just the present day problems and issues, but the future."

"The 1964-1967 government that he ran has now become the exemplar of what Somalis could do if they ever get their history back together, " Samatar continued, referring to the conflict which has gripped Somalia for years.

Hussein came to the United States when he was appointed Somali Ambassador to the United Nations in 1975. He later applied for political amnesty after becoming an outspoken critic of the military dictatorship in Somalia. In time he moved from New York to Minnesota, a place Samatar said Hussein loved.

"To him Minnesota was second best to Somalia," said Samatar. he said Hussein loved the ethics, civic-mindedness, and generosity he found in the state. "And he always used to tell us this was one of the most civilized places to live. So Minnesota really was for him a second home."

Samatar said that even in recent years he served as an advocate for all Somalis, and served as an example to young people in the community.

"He was someone to his dying days was extremely loyal to national welfare, to the Somali people as a whole, and never descended to a level of tribalization and pettiness. So there was a certain grace about his leadership to the end, even in these difficult times of the last 20 years."

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