SOMALIA: Mammoth task ahead for new president

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s election as president of Somalia has been heralded as the start of a new era for the troubled Horn of Africa state, which has been mired in conflict for over two decades. Residents of the capital, Mogadishu, say the new president has his work cut out for him.

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The President got an early taste of the tough road ahead when he survived an attempted assassination on 12 September. Mohamud and other officials at the city’s Jazeera Hotel – including Kenyan Foreign Minister Samuel Ongeri – were unharmed by the suspected suicide attack, which witnesses say killed the bomber and at least one security guard. Militant Islamist group Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the blast.

“Now we have an educated speaker as well as an educated president, and I hope there will also be a qualified prime minister,” Abdulahi Hassan Mohamed, a 42-year-old doctor, told IRIN. “The president [has done] many good services for the people as a normal citizen – he should build on that.”

Somali MPs chose Mohamud – who represents the Peace and Development Party – over the incumbent, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, in a runoff on 10 September. An academic and long-term civil society activist, Mohamud has been described as a moderate who could unite Somalia’s deeply divided, largely clan-based, political groups.

The election process was marred by allegations of vote-buying and was criticized for not being sufficiently democratic, but the results have been widely accepted. Neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania, as well as the European Union and the United States, have congratulated the new president.

The African Union called on Somali stakeholders to “further the peace and reconciliation process”, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon urged “Somali and international actors alike to pledge their continued support”.

A spokesperson for the Al-Shabab, which still holds parts of south-central Somalia, said the group rejected the election and vowed to continue its war against the government.

Charting a new path

Mohamud’s election marks the end of the country’s eight-year Transitional Federal Government. The transitional period has seen Al-Shabab retreat from Mogadishu and other parts of south-central Somalia; a push by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) aims to remove them from their last major stronghold, the port city of Kismayo. Somalis will be hoping Mohamud can capitalize on the relative peace to start the process of rebuilding the country.

Analysts say the international community – which has guided much of the transitional process – must now step away from Somalia’s governance and allow Mohamud to do his job. “For years, members of the international community have been micromanaging the politics of Somalia from afar… The Nairobi-based politicians should give him [Mohamud] space to chart his own path – and make mistakes along the way,” Abdi Aynte, a Somali-American journalist, said in an article on the Royal African Society’s African Arguments online forum.

Suldan Warsame Aliyow, a traditional elder, thinks Somalia is closer to stability now than any time since 1991, but warned that the new government must steer clear of the sectarianism that has blighted previous governments and deepened the country’s conflict. “The president has to disassociate himself from any group, either tribal or religious,” he said.

Great expectations

Mohamed Abdi Mohamed, a university lecturer in Mogadishu, said restoring order to Somalia would be a major challenge. “He must restore rule of law and build a government of institutions rather than a government of individuals, which transitional presidents were famous for,” he said.

The country’s citizens hope the new government can end the years of insecurity and poverty. “We need a total break from the past,” said Fatima Ali, a businesswoman in Mogadishu’s Bakara suburb.

“Let them build a more professional army who will not rob civilians,” said Mohamed Bilqe, a taxi driver. Somalia’s poorly trained army has been accused of abuses, including rape, torture and robbery.

The soldiers are also hoping for a more structured army. “Now that the transition is over, the government can sign more formal international agreements and can ask for loans,” said Farah Dhiblawe Hirabe, a mine expert in the army who has defused about 60 landmines in Mogadishu since 2007. “We hope to be paid better and more regularly.”

More than two million refugees and internally displaced people will be hoping for the chance to go home and rebuild their lives.

“I am happy we have a government, but it should do something to improve our lives,” said Ali Mohamed, who left his home in the Middle Shabelle region after losing his livestock to drought. He now lives in a camp in Mogadishu with his wife and three children.

Abdishakur Sheikh Hassan, a university professor, said one of Mohamud’s toughest tasks will be implementing the country’s provisional constitution. “Four years from now, people need to able to elect their leaders through polls, and that is not an easy job,” he said.



Theme (s): Conflict, Economy, Governance, Refugees/IDPs, Security,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]