Stephen M. Schwartz was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2016, the first ambassador to Somalia in 25 years.
At the time, his appointment was seen as a landmark in U.S.-Somali relations. The U.S. Embassy in Somalia was closed in 1991 because of violent political upheaval. Even today, it operates out of Nairobi, Kenya.
Since the appointment, Schwartz has been connecting with cities throughout the United States that have large Somali populations. He’s made similar visits to Columbus, Ohio, and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.
Because of the demographic numbers, and the city’s perceived success with immigrants settling here since 2001, Lewiston has received worldwide attention.
Schwartz’s trip to Lewiston also comes during a time of uncertainty for many Somali immigrants, because the country is one of six included in President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban, which would halt immigration and refugee programs from the majority-Muslim countries.
Schwartz was in Somalia in February following the election of the country’s new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. The visit made headlines for its diplomatic significance but also for Schwartz’s gift to the new president: a hat with the message, “Make Somalia Great Again,” in reference to Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan.
Three Somali community leaders in Lewiston, Fowsia Musse, Abdifatah Ahmed and Jama Mohamed, agreed last month to help with Schwartz’s visit.
Schwartz, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., previously served as the director of the Office for Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island Affairs in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. He also has years of experience in Africa.
— Andrew Rice