Somalian Refugee Finds Connections in Seattle Koshin Mohamed, a Somali refugee, works as a shopkeeper in southern Seattle. He says he has been tapped by the new transitional government in Somalia to be the new Somalian Ambassador to the United States. But the 28-year-old has found some powerful allies in the world of conservative U.S. politics.
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Somalian Refugee Finds Connections in Seattle

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Somalian Refugee Finds Connections in Seattle

Somalian Refugee Finds Connections in Seattle

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Now, we're going to meet an immigrant from Somalia who's been tapped to play a big role in this country. Koshin Mohamed works as a shopkeeper in Seattle and he's being asked to represent the Somali transitional government in America.

From KUOW, Amy Radil has this profile.

AMY RADIL: Koshin Mohamed came to the U.S. as a teenage refugee. Now he's the 28-year-old owner of a small Seattle grocery store with foreign money transfers. But Mohamed has a double life. He's both grocer and diplomat. He's trying to help Somalia's fragile transitional government, which only recently gained control of its own capital Mogadishu. Somalia hasn't had an established government since 1991.

In Mohamed's shop, his wife, Hamdi(ph), runs the cash register and makes espresso behind the counter. Mohamed is elegantly dressed in a blazer and slacks. He's about to travel to D.C. to arrange a U.S. visit for his boss, the president of Somalia's transitional government.

Mr. KOSHIN MOHAMED (Representative to Somali transitional Government): I would think that the United States Congress need to know about what's happening in Somalia from the leader of the Somali people.

RADIL: Mohamed may seem like a little fish on the world stage. He's young. He's a college dropout. He lives in the wrong Washington. But he's gotten the support of some influential people. Former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton says he knew little about Somalia when Mohamed first met with him several years ago. They struck up a friendship. Now Gorton's law firm is lobbying in D.C. to help the Somali transitional government, introducing Mohamed to people at the State Department and CIA.

Mr. SLADE GORTON (Former U.S. Senator): My law firm did decide to take on his occasional representation really pretty much pro bono.

RADIL: Gorton's influence also opened doors at a conservative Seattle think-tank called the Discovery Institute which lets Mohamed use its D.C. offices. The group is better known for pushing intelligent design in the debates over Darwinism. But the institute embraced Mohamed and his government, calling them allies against terrorism. They even held a press event earlier this year in Seattle introducing Mohamed as Somalia's new ambassador.

But David Shin, a former State Department coordinator on Somalia, says he's never heard of Mohamed. He says since the last government fell in 1991, it's been hard to know who speaks for Somalia.

Mr. DAVID SHINN (Former State Department Official): There was no single voice coming from the Somali community at that time, and there isn't today.

RADIL: There isn't even an embassy. The U.S. State Department sold Somalia's U.S. embassy in the 1990s after the country fell behind on its rent. State Department officials say they have to be sure of the new government before they'll turn over the proceeds.

Back from his trip to D.C., Mohamed now seems bitter about the lack of U.S. help for his government.

Mr. MOHAMED: We have our funds seized for God's sakes. United States are holding our own money.

RADIL: And his work has taken a personal toll. On this morning, the dapper diplomat is gone. He looks like he just woke up. There are no customers in his store and not much food on the shelf. Mohamed says some local Somalis boycott his store because they don't like his politics.

Mr. MOHAMED: It hurts my business, yes. It devastates my economy, yes. But it's a sacrifice. I see it as a sacrifice.

RADIL: Mohamed says he'll sell the shop to continue his diplomatic career. He hopes to move to D.C. soon to keep knocking on doors, or back to Somalia to help get the new government off the ground.

For NPR News, I'm Amy Radil in Seattle.

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