25 May 2019

Somalia: History Made as UK Gets First Somalia-Born Mayor

Councillor Rakhia Ismail - the country's first Somali-born mayor - came to England as a refugee in the 1980s. She was elected as a Labour councillor in 2012, representing Holloway, and has campaigned to combat racism and raise awareness of knife crime, especially within the Somalian community.

She told the Tribune during the public iftar - the breaking of the fast meal during Ramadan - outside Finsbury Park Mosque that it "feels good" to be mayor.

"I'm so proud and very happy that my colleagues have elected me. It's a great honour that tells you Islington is united," she said.

Cllr Ismail, wearing her mayoral garb, was praised by women who came up to her at the iftar.

Aisha Abdi, a committee member at Finsbury Park Mosque, said: "She is a role model to all Somali women. Her becoming mayor is a good opportunity for the younger generation of women to know what's available to them."

She added that "all ethnic community groups are so proud of her". But Cllr Ismail stressed that her job was to represent all members of the community.

"My being chosen as mayor represents the unity and diversity of Islington," she said. "It's community cohesion at its best and that's what we want the United Kingdom to be.

"What I am looking forward to is helping those who are voiceless, whether that is the Muslim community or the white working class who feel abandoned by mainstream politicians. We are all one community."

Cllr Ismail has chosen to raise money for disability rights charity Centre 404, based in Camden Road, and intercultural therapy centre Nafsyiat, based in Archway during her tenure as mayor.

"I want to raise awareness about mental health because I think it is underrated by the government," she said.

Before going into politics, Cllr Ismail was a designer and studied pattern design at London College of Fashion.

When asked what she thought of her ceremonial gown, which includes a frilly lace necktie and heavy gold chain, she said it was "exciting".

Cllr Ismail will hold her position for a year alongside Councillor Troy Gallagher, as deputy mayor, with Cllr Marian Spall as his consort.

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