After decades of civil war, Somalia has elected its first president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. The elections were largely peaceful and featured intense security, including a lockdown of the capital, Mogadishu, according to USA Today.
The previous president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was elected not by direct elections, but rather through the legislature. The decision to do so was largely the result of threats by Al-Shabaab, an Islamist group that controlled a large section of the country.
Somalia has been a “failed” state since the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991. Barre had ruled the country with an iron fist since 1969, and led his country to defeat in an attempt to seize the Ogaden region of northern Ethiopia in the pursuit of a so-called “Greater Somalia.” After the Soviet Union, previously his patron, rescinded all aid during the war, Barre’s power began to decline until he was ousted by Ali Mahdi Muhammed and a coalition of opposition forces in 1991.
Ali Mahdi Muhammed, although taking up the reins of the presidency, could not extend his power beyond the capital and the country fell into chaos.
In the end, it took twenty-six years from the call of Siad Barre to the present day, a national election in Somalia that had the people elect their own president. In the meantime, the country became almost idiomatically associated with the idea of anarchy and, for a while, became synonymous with piracy.
The candidate, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is something of an oddity in Somalian politics. According to the New York Times, he is best known by his nickname Farmajo, which comes from Italian’s “formaggio” – in other words “cheese.” Somalia is a former Italian colony, and many of its politicians speak Italian.
More importantly, however, “Farmajo” not only claims the loyalty of the military – at the news of his victory, shots erupted within the capital as soldiers fired into the air in celebration – but is also warmly regarded by the people. As the soldiers fired into the air ordinary people poured out onto the streets to cheer for their new president.
One Somali analyst’s opinion, “The least corrupt and most-well-liked candidate won Somalia’s most corrupt and least democratic election.”
It was, some say, that corruption that vaulted Farmajo into the presidency in the first place. The new president is well-known for his anti-corruption drive as prime minister six years ago. According to the Washington Post, when he was asked to step down in 2011, crowds flooded the streets to demand that he be kept. Transparency International ranked Somalia the most corrupt country on Earth – more corrupt than North Korea, which stood at third-worst.
The election, while relatively secure, was not without issue. The Washington Post cited a joint statement from the United States and the EU warned of “egregious cases of abuse of the electoral process.” A Mogadishu-based nonprofit, Marqaati, reported that some candidates paid between $50,000 and $100,000 for legislators to support them.
In addition, Somalia’s status as an operating government is far from assured. According to the Financial Times, judicial and taxation systems are non-existent, leaving the government with a mounting debt in excess of $5 billion, while its income – mostly from airport fees – with an income of only $230 million.
The Somali military, meanwhile, exists mostly on paper, despite receiving billions in aid. Government control still doesn’t extend beyond main towns in certain regions, where Al Shabaab dominates the countryside. Fighting against the Islamist insurgency is done mostly by clan militias – Somali clans are, in many areas, the only community institution still in operation.
The difficulties have left some wary of claims of improvement. The Financial Times quoted Mukhtar Abdirahman Ahmed, a district mayor, as he wandered through a refugee camp in the central region of Puntland, “Where is the central government?” He continued, “I only know there’s a president in this country because I’ve seen him on TV.”
What do you think of this new development? Are Somalia’s dark days finally drawing to an end, or is this simply the end of the beginning? How could the country deal with its long-standing problems and weak central government? Sound off in the comments and tell us what you think!
By James Mayfield
Photo Courtesy Ilyas Ahmed