His name was Abdirahman Omar Osman but, to Somalis, the mayor of Mogadishu was simply known as “injineer yariisow”, meaning “the small engineer” due to his slight stature and civil engineering training.
The 53-year-old’s soft voice and easy-going personality belied his place in the country’s politics – the mayor of the capital arguably holds the third most significant post in Somalia, behind only that of the president and prime minister.
Abdirahman was seriously wounded in a suicide blast in his office last week while chairing a security meeting. At least six people, including three Mogadishu district commissioners, died in the attack that was claimed by al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked armed group fighting to overthrow Somalia’s government.
The married father of seven succumbed to his wounds at a hospital in Qatar’s capital, Doha, on Friday, two weeks before his 54th birthday.
Abdirahman was an unusual figure in Somalia‘s cutthroat political scene that typically sees officials serving under just one administration before falling out of favour.
Abdirahman served under three different presidents either as a government minister or a spokesman.
“He was a unifying figure in a divided country,” Mohamed Ahmed Cantoobo, director general of social affairs at Mogadishu City Hall, told Al Jazeera.
“He was a peace-lover and treated everyone as an equal, no matter their title or place in society. That made many people want to be associated with him.” Cantoobo, a former district commissioner of the city’s Hodan area, added.
In one of his last public speeches in the seaside city, Abdirahman called on Somalis everywhere to embrace peace and forgive each other.
“If someone has done you wrong, forgive him or her. Let us all forgive each other,” he told a gathering in late June.
“I am here before you to say I have forgiven everyone that has done anything to me. I likewise hope that anyone that I have done anything to can forgive me,” he added.
As official tributes poured in following his death, close friends and colleagues described him as a humble, hard-working man of few words and many actions.
“He was a reformer and led by example. It was not unusual to receive a phone call from him at 2am in the morning asking about work,” Mohamed, who first met Abdirahman in London in 2007, said.
A former councillor in the United Kingdom’s capital, Abdirahman decided to return to Somalia and in 2008 was named chief of staff in the prime minister’s office.
A decade later, after holding various government roles, including the post of information minister and treasurer, Abdirahman was appointed mayor of the capital in January 2018.
People close to him said he never complained about the huge burden of putting Mogadishu, a city of 2.1 million people recovering from more than two decades of civil war, back on its feet.
“He did not like the spotlight. He was a workaholic who preferred to be behind the scenes where he could get the job done,” Hassan Abukar Hilowle, aid coordinator for Benadir Regional Administration, which Mogadishu is part of, told Al Jazeera.
“He always told us we have to work twice as hard as employees of other capital cities in the world so we can recover the time we lost to the war. He was the last one to leave the office,” added Hassan, who last saw the slain mayor an hour before the blast.
Mogadishu is home to approximately 600,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), nearly one-third of the East African country’s population, according to local officials.
Abdirahman was a regular sight at the city’s camps for the displaced, often pictured seating amongst the people, drinking tea and listening to their demands.
“When I was told the mayor of Mogadishu is coming, I thought it was a lie. I never believed the mayor will come to such a place. I thought he will only go to the people with the big houses. I’m glad he is here sitting amongst us in our camp,” Ahmed Ali, an elder at an IDP camp in the city’s Warta Nabadda area told state media after a visit by Abdirahman,
Last month, the city’s administration opened a unit in the mayor’s office to address the plight of IDPs and people with special needs.
“We are all Somalis. This country belongs to all of us. No one here has more rights than the other. Let’s work towards achieving brotherhood and prosperity,” the mayor said after opening the unit.
To his colleagues, Abdirahman was someone they could rely on during times of difficulty.
“He cared about his staff. You could go to him and talk about anything,” Hassan, the aid coordinator, said.
“I will always remember him for the opportunities and advices he gave me. Somalis have lost a great man.”