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Dr Osman: My Journey to Establishing the University for Peace (UPEACE) in Somalia



The theme for this year’s World Education Day is “learning for lasting peace”. Nowhere in Africa or across the globe is this theme more relevant than Somalia, a country that is slowly recovering from decades of civil war, political anarchy and violent extremism.

However, Somalia has witnessed gradual but steady progress in attaining peace, and the education sector, especially in higher learning, is one of the areas that has benefited from this progress. Dr Mohamed Osman, the man behind the establishment of the United Nations University for Peace (UPEACE) in Somalia, reflects on the inspiring journey that ultimately saw President (Dr.) Hassan Sheikh Mohamud graduate with a PhD in 2022—the first Head of State to attain doctorate in Somalia’s history.


By: Dr. Mohamed Osman

My early fascination with the intricate interplay of peace and conflict profoundly shaped my educational and professional trajectory. After graduating with an economics degree from Mogadishu University in 2009, I delved deeper into Economic Policy and Planning at Makerere University. The curriculum was not just about numbers and policies; it was a journey into the heart of societal transformation, addressing poverty, unemployment and crucially, the foundations of peace and stability.

Living in Uganda, a nation slowly healing from the scars of civil war. I was drawn to the stories of its people and its youthful energy. That curiosity led me to pursue a Masters in clConflict Resolution and Peacebuilding. In this program, my understanding of peace expanded beyond textbooks, examining the roots of conflict and the delicate balance that sustains peace. Here, I recognized key disruptors of peace: political oppression, armed conflicts, the devastating effects of climate change, and the dire scarcity of resources.

Hailing from Somalia—a land repeatedly battered by droughts—the lessons were not just academic but personal. I witnessed the crippling effects of environmental crises – not only in Somalia but across the Horn of Africa. Mass displacements and limited educational opportunities – these were not just news headlines, they were chapters of my life as a refugee in Uganda.

My academic path then intersected with the Resilient Africa Network (RAN) at the School of Public Health. This initiative, a collaborative brainchild of over 16 African universities funded by USAID, was a crucible of innovation to enhance community resilience. My involvement with RAN steered my focus towards a niche yet critical field – Environmental Economics, intertwined with Peace.

The journey led me to a fellowship at Makerere University, in partnership with Tulane University, supported by the Gates Foundation. This program, focusing on disaster resilience leadership, was about more than just learning; it was about doing. I found myself in the heart of cyclone relief efforts in Somalia’s Puntland state, gaining invaluable experience in crisis leadership. These experiences were instrumental in founding the Sadar Development and Resilience Institute and shaped my collaborations with various international organizations and universities.

In 2014, my journey took a pivotal turn towards enhancing climate resilience through peace governance and development studies. At a seminar on disaster resilience leadership, I consistently leveraged my community insights and academic background to advocate for establishing a university for Peace in Somalia. Despite the complexities in researching and teaching disaster resilience, we saw the urgent need for expertise from international and national institutions alike.

A significant milestone was meeting Professor Samuel Kale in 2018. Our conversations, rich in philosophical and scientific insights, spurred me to pursue a PhD despite my extensive commitments. His mentorship was instrumental in my journey, guiding me through the PhD. Program, which I commenced in September 2018. During this time, I engaged deeply in my studies and contributed significantly to the university’s sustainability amidst funding challenges.

The decision to relocate the university to Somalia was monumental. Given the United Nations affiliation and the imperative of staff safety, we weighed the risks. Establishing it within Mogadishu’s green zone was a strategic move. The inauguration was a testament to our efforts, attracting over 500 attendees and leading to an influx of 800 applications.

We introduced master’s and PhD programs focused on peace governance, human rights, and environmental Peace. The response was overwhelming, with experienced students enriching our academic environment. Notably, the then-former President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud (2012 – 2017) was reelected in May 2022, enrolled and graduated with a PhD in 2022, underscoring the transformative power of education.

Our expansion continued, thanks to the generous Qatar Charity funding of 33 doctoral scholarships supplemented by seven University for Peace scholarship programs like leadership, sustainable development, desertification blue economy and maritime security. The university’s growth is a beacon of education’s transformative power and committed individuals’ impact.

(From left) DR Mohamed Yusuf Somalia Country Director ,Dr Francisco Rojas Aravena Rector UPEACE, Professor Samuel Kale Ewusi- Regional Director UPEACE Africa, Dr Mohamed Osman Mohamoud Representative Middle East and Sub-Sahara Africa Region.

Our journey at the University for Peace wasn’t without its challenges. We had to adapt our teaching methods to practical, hands-on online formats and address security concerns, often amplified by media narratives. But our dedication to training peace leaders meant facing these challenges head-on.

In negotiations for the university’s establishment in Somalia, I argued fervently for its necessity, emphasizing, ‘If the University for Peace is to be anywhere, it must be in Somalia.’ This was a pivotal moment, aligning the management with our mission.

Today, the Somalia program is a cornerstone of the university, contributing significantly to research and training on Peace, conflict, and security. Despite its conflicts, we’ve demonstrated that Somalia has working governance systems encompassing tribal, communal, private, and academic sectors – all vital.

To state rebuilding. These sectors have produced leaders now pivotal in national governance. The impact of the University for Peace extends far beyond its campus. I am completing my PhD. Focusing on the political economy and youth involvement in politics, I experienced the growing demand for our programs, highlighting the necessity for continued outreach and education.

Our progress is owed to the resilience of our students, the dedication of our lecturers and staff, and the unwavering support from our Africa Regional Program Headquarters in Addis Ababa. Figures like Samuel Kale and leaders like Professor Francisco Rojas and Vice-Rector Juan Carlo, who graced our first graduation ceremony in Somalia, have been pillars of our success.

The University for Peace’s comprehensive approach to understanding society, economy, and ecology sets a new benchmark for educational institutions globally. Initiatives like the Presidential Scholarship, supported by Qatar Charity, amplify higher education in Somalia, fostering ongoing research and development. Our commitment to Somalia and to promoting lasting Peace is unwavering. As we continue to educate and inspire the next generation of leaders, our journey remains a testament to the power of education in transforming societies and building a more peaceful world. Thank you.

Dr Mohamed Osman is the Sub-Regional Representative for UPEACE University, covering Middle East, Eastern and Southern Africa for the Africa Regional Programme.


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