Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s election as president of Somalia could be a sign of a new era for the troubled Horn of Africa state, mired in conflict for over two decades. Residents of the capital, Mogadishu, say the new president has his work cut out for him. The new head of state, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, is being lauded as an honest man of peace and pragmatism. He certainly got an early taste of the road ahead when he survived an attempted assassination on 12 September. Mohamud and Kenyan Foreign Minister Samuel Ongeri were unharmed by a suicidal attack which killed the bomber and at least one security guard. Militant Islamist group Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the blast.
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.
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.
Another problem is that of piracy. Thanks to more effective protection of shipping convoys, Somali pirates have been less successful in the past year, but they are still a menace. Their attacks deter investment and trade. Currently, eight vessels and 215 hostages are held by pirates, down from 23 vessels and 501 hostages at the same time a year ago.
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. 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.
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, 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.