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Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., at the State of the Union address, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington. (AP) Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., at the State of the Union address, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington. (AP)

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., at the State of the Union address, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington. (AP)

Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu
By Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu February 1, 2024

Rep. Ilhan Omar says translation of her comments is inaccurate, court-registered interpreter agrees

If Your Time is short

  • Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., disputed the translation of her comments.

  • PolitiFact asked a court-registered interpreter to translate the speech, and he agreed that the X post’s translation was inaccurate. 

  • Other news outlets also said the translation in the X post was flawed and distorted.

  • No spin, just facts you can trust. Here's how we do it.

Editor’s note: A complete translation of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments, originally made in Somali, has been added to the end of this article.  

Leading Republicans have called for the removal of Rep. Ilhan Omar, D- Minn., from office after a speech she delivered in Somali was posted on X with a supposed English translation.

The X account EndWokeness posted the video Jan. 28 with the caption, "Ilhan Omar tells a crowd of Somalians that her top priority is to put Somalia first and expand its territory."

It also included a purported quote from Omar that said, "The U.S. government will do what we want, nothing else. They must follow our orders. That is how we safeguard the interest of Somalia." The video was first posted by Rhoda J. Elmi, deputy foreign minister of Somaliland, a self-governing region of Somalia that declared independence in 1991 but hasn’t been officially recognized by any country.

When contacted for comment, Omar disputed the X post’s translation. An interpreter PolitiFact contacted also said the X post’s translation was inaccurate. Other news outlets reached the same conclusion.

Omar, the first Somali-American member of Congress, delivered the speech in Somali, Somalia’s official language and a language widely spoken in Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and within diaspora communities outside East Africa.

The Jan. 27 speech at a Minneapolis hotel was to Somali-American constituents; Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community in the U.S. Omar’s remarks followed the Ethiopian government’s January deal with Somaliland officials to enable Ethiopia, a landlocked country, to gain access to the sea. In exchange, Ethiopia vowed to officially recognize Somaliland as a country, a move U.S. State Department officials have rejected and described as "disruptive."

Reposting the video of the speech on X, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wrote about Omar, "Expel from Congress, denaturalize and deport!"

Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., called for an ethics investigation and Omar’s resignation.

"Ilhan Omar’s appalling, Somalia-first comments are a slap in the face to the Minnesotans she was elected to serve and a direct violation of her oath of office," Emmer wrote on X.

In a statement to PolitiFact, Omar said the attacks were "rooted in xenophobia and Islamophobia." She said the speech was in line with official U.S. policy on the land borders of Somalia, which includes the disputed region of Somaliland.

Omar was born in Somalia and her family immigrated to the U.S. as refugees when she was a child. Omar, who is Muslim, has often faced accusations of disloyalty to the U.S. since her election to Congress in 2019. Omar also has previously been criticized for questioning the allegiance of Jewish Americans.

PolitiFact asked Jibril Mohamed, an Ohio State University professor of Somali who is a registered court interpreter in Ohio, to assess the translation in the X post. He found several inaccuracies in the translation. 

He told PolitiFact that Omar did not say her top priority is Somalia and expanding its territory. He also said other statements in the X post translation were not part of Omar’s speech. 

The video subtitles on X say Omar told the audience that they are "people who know they are Somalians first, Muslims second who protect one another." Republicans have condemned her because of the alleged "Somalia-first" phrase.

But Mohamed said that translation is inaccurate, and that Omar told her constituents they are "people who know they are Somalis and Muslims who come to the aid of another and aid their other brothers and sisters." Also, people from Somalia call themselves Somali, not Somalians, as the subtitles say that Omar said.

Omar’s office shared a translation of the speech with PolitiFact that matched a version posted on X by Abdirashid Hashi, a former Somali government official.

The EndWokeness X post said that Omar had said, "The U.S. government will do what we want, nothing else. They must follow our orders." Hashi’s X post said the accurate translation was, "My response was: the U.S. government will do what we ask it to do. We should have this confidence in ourselves as Somalis. We live in this country. We are taxpayers in this country." 

Other news outlets have also said the translation in EndWokeness’ X post is inaccurate.  A fact-check by the Star Tribune, a Minneapolis newspaper, cited an in-house reporter who speaks Somali and who described the translation by Hashi as "more accurate" and said it "matched Omar's actual comments." The Star Tribune article described the Republican criticism as "based on a flawed translation."

The Minnesota Reformer, another news outlet, published a translation of the speech by a federal court interpreter who also found inaccuracies in the original translation.The Reformer described the original translation as "faulty" and distorted. The translation published by the Reformer broadly matched Mohamed’s translation for PolitiFact.

Our ruling

An X post said that Omar said her "top priority is to put Somalia first and expand its territory."

A translation provided to PolitiFact by a court-registered translator said the speech expressed support for current U.S. foreign policy on Somalia’s borders.

Omar disputed the translation of her comments, and the court-registered interpreter agreed that the X post’s translation was inaccurate. Other news outlets also called the translation in the X post flawed and distorted.

We rate this statement False.

Complete translation of Omar's comments by Fanah Adam, Somali language instructor, South Central College, Minnesota: "If we are Somali people, we are people who love each other. We may disagree in some areas, but if the truth comes, we are people who consult each other, people who are brothers, people who have blood, people who know themselves to be Somalis, to be Muslims and support each other, and support their brothers and sisters. In the meantime, I have heard that some Somalis, or Somalis, claim that they have signed into an agreement with Ethiopia.

Many people called me and said, Ilhan, you should talk to the American government; what is the American government doing about it? My answer was that the American government is doing what we ask to do with us. This is the country we live in, and this country is the country we paid taxes for. It is the country where a girl was born from you who is sitting in the congress. While I am in the Congress, the country of Somalia is not taking its water and other people and its sea.

And the United States does not support other people who are robbing us; when it comes to Minnesotans, the girl they sent to Congress knows about you, so she feels that way.

President Hassan Sheikh, I am happy for the good work you have done, that you have made the people of Somalia and people living everywhere feel that no matter how much trouble we have in Somalia, we are talented people, people who recognize their country, people who have never been in their country. Can't be put in danger, so I, Minnesotans and Somalis living everywhere, congratulate you for the way you are united and how you all stood by our president because he needs all of us to stand by him.

Somalia is Somali, Somalia is one, we are brothers and sisters, and our land is not divided; we are missing lands, and we are looking for them one day, God willing, but what we have is not divided now. So, thank you all for honoring me and always welcoming me; God bless you. Salam Alaikum Warahmatullah (Peace and prosperity upon you)."

Our Sources

Translation, Fanah Adam, Somali language instructor, South Central College, Minnesota 

Council on Foreign Relations, Somaliland: The Horn of Africa’s Breakaway State, Jan. 25, 2024

BBC News, Ilhan Omar: Who is Minnesota's Somalia-born congresswoman?, Mar. 7, 2019

Newsweek, Ilhan Omar Defends Somalia Remarks Amid Backlash, Jan. 29, 2024

Star Tribune, Fact check: What Rep. Ilhan Omar actually said in viral speech

The Minnesota Reformer, Republicans smeared Ilhan Omar over a faulty translation. Here’s what she really said, Feb. 1, 2024.

BBC, Ethiopia-Somaliland deal makes waves in Horn of Africa, Jan. 19, 2024

Vox, The Ilhan Omar anti-Semitism controversy, explained, Mar. 6, 2024

Associated Press, Leader of Somalia’s breakaway Somaliland says deal with Ethiopia will allow it to build a naval base, Jan. 26, 2024

Ohio Supreme Court, Roster of Court Interpreters By Language - January 2024, accessed Jan. 31, 2024

Department of State, Online Press Briefing with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Molly Phee, Jan. 30, 2024

SBS Cultural Atlas, Somali Culture - Other Considerations, accessed Feb. 1, 2024

National African Language Resource Center, Somali language, accessed Feb. 1, 2024

CBS, What Is The History Behind Minnesota's Somali-American Community?, Jul. 23, 2019

X, EndWokeness (archived link), Jan. 28, 2024

X, Ron DeSantis (archived link), Jan. 30, 2024

X, Ambassador Rhoda J Elmi, (archived link)

X, Tom Emmer, (archived link), Jan. 29, 2024

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Rep. Ilhan Omar says translation of her comments is inaccurate, court-registered interpreter agrees

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