PhD awarded to Somali president for study on state-building

The President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was included in a group of 166 students who have been awarded postgraduate degrees by the Somali branch of the United Nations-mandated University for Peace.

The event brought together 29 women and 137 men in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, for a graduation ceremony at the institution.

The high-level qualifications, including the first doctorates, are set to contribute to the country’s pool of highly skilled workers. According to the UN, Somalia’s Ninth National Development Plan, covering the 2020-24 period, lists education as a key sector vital for the country’s prosperity.

The president, highlighting the importance of education in the war-torn country’s future development, pledged to create a scholarship fund to support the first 100 students expressing an interest in pursuing doctoral degrees at the university.

The Somali leader was conferred with a PhD focused on peace, governance and development. He said his dissertation, which he defended in August, was titled, ‘Examining the Challenges of Clan Politics in State-building: A case study of Somalia’.

The graduation ceremony was the University for Peace’s second such event for students in its specialised Somalia programme. The first cohort of students took part in a graduation event in 2021.

Established in 1980 by the UN, the University for Peace’s focus areas include conflict prevention, human security, human rights, environmental security and post-conflict rehabilitation.

In Somalia, it offers specialised post-graduate programmes with a focus on peace-building, conflict prevention, human security, human rights, environmental security and post-conflict resolution.

Education as a pillar of peace

Nadifa Sheikh Omar (55) was another graduate in the group, who is elated about obtaining her higher degree.

“When I was six years old, I enrolled for my primary school education in Somalia, and went on to complete high school there [in Somalia],” she said.

Due to civil war, Omar was unable to pursue higher education until much later, when she fled to the United Kingdom as a refugee.

She obtained her first degree in electronic and computer systems from London South Bank University. Later, she enrolled for further studies at the same university before returning home to do humanitarian work.

“Somalia continues to be battered by conflict and, while there are many humanitarian agencies trying to help, I decided to return home and help my people,” Omar told University World News shortly after receiving her PhD, which she described as a “dream come true”.

“As a Somali woman, I feel proud of myself for having obtained a doctorate,” she said.

In her remarks to the graduating students, the UN secretary-general’s Deputy Special Representative for Somalia, Anita Kiki Gbeho, said education remains a foundational pillar of the UN’s mission to build peace, eradicate poverty, and drive sustainable development.

“It drives upward socio-economic mobility and, perhaps most important of all, education provides opportunities for its recipients to meaningfully contribute towards nation-building,” she said.

“I can think of few places where the fruits of education are more relevant, more impactful, than in Somalia,” Gbeho added. She also serves as the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia, or UNSOM.

Somalia’s context

Presiding over the ceremony, held on 2 December, was a member of the university’s council, Lalla Ben Barka.

The attainment of a masters or doctorate degree in a country such as Somalia has to be celebrated, given the obstacles that the country often faces, such as conflict, and terrorism, she said.

“Changing the world through education is about [using] the power of education to bring light rather than destruction,” she added.

According to the University for Peace’s Professor Samuel Kale Ewusi, who specialises in peace studies and international relations and serves as the director of its Africa Regional Programme, it was by design that the university had operations in Somalia and that the PhD graduates were all from Somalia.

“If we have to bring peace anywhere, it has to be in Somalia, because it was once the ground zero of conflict in Africa,” he said.