Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed

Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed photographed during an interview at the Hotel Intercontinental Monday, October 5, 2009. (E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune / October 5, 2009)

Of slight build, cautious words and thoughtful demeanor, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed breaks the stereotype of what passes for a leader in the world's most notorious failed state, Somalia.

The warlords who preceded him would never have shown up in Minneapolis, Chicago and Columbus, Ohio -- as Ahmed did last week -- to seek a helping hand up from the bloody hell his people have suffered for two decades. Nor would they have been welcome, as he was.

A cleric and former teacher, Ahmed, 43, has an unenviable and dangerous job -- president of Somalia's coalition government. It is a thin entity that controls only small portions of the capital, Mogadishu. By all accounts, it would fall within hours to al-Qaida-linked militants if not protected by a cordon of peacekeeping troops from Uganda.

But, in the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ahmed is the "best hope" the world has had in years to return stability to Somalia, prevent it from becoming the next launching pad for global terrorism and snuff out those annoying, skiff-riding pirates who operate off the country's coastline...more..,0,6272233.story