NAIROBI, Kenya — During his years as an administrator at the Department of Transportation in upstate New York, the Somali refugee turned American citizen took classes in political science, imbibing democratic values he hoped to one day export back to his homeland.
That dream came true for Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed in 2017, when he returned to Somalia and was elected president in a surprise victory that evinced high hopes he might reform — even transform — his dysfunctional, war-weary country.
But those aspirations have crumbled since Mr. Mohamed failed to hold elections when his four-year term ended in February, then moved to extend his rule by two years — a step many Somalis viewed as a naked power grab.
A furious political dispute turned violent on Sunday when a series of gunfights broke out between rival military factions in the capital, Mogadishu, evoking fears that Somalia, after years of modest yet gradual progress, could descend into the kind of clan-based bloodshed that ripped it apart in the 1990s.
young Somalis determined to find a better future and progress in the fight against insurgents with Al Shabab, one of the world’s best organized and funded Al Qaeda affiliates.
Mr. Mohamed did not respond to a request for an interview or to questions sent to his aides.
Popularly known as “Farmaajo” — a derivation of the Italian word for cheese and purportedly his father’s favorite food — Mr. Mohamed was once the bearer of many Somalis’ hopes.
Mr. Mohamed was widely seen as less corrupt, more reform-oriented and less manipulated by foreign interests than the other 24 candidates.
“This is the beginning of unity for the Somali nation,” Mr. Mohamed told supporters shortly after winning the election.
Mr. Mohamed came to the United States in 1985 as a junior diplomat at the Somali Embassy and, as his country tumbled into conflict, decided to stay. A family friend said he first applied for political asylum in Canada, where his mother and siblings lived, and later obtained a Canadian passport.
But in the early 1990s, Mr. Mohamed, newly married, moved back to the United States where his family eventually settled in Grand Island, next to Buffalo and Niagara Falls.