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Somalia: New Start, Stubborn Realities

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Sep 16, 2012 (120916)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

The unexpected election of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, an educator and civil society activist, as the new president of Somalia, has aroused hopes of a new start in that country. But the stubborn realities he and other Somalis face include not only the continuing threat from Al Shabaab, which launched a suicide assassination attack on the new president on September 12. Even more daunting is the challenge of embedded corruption in the government he will head, which has been fostered by a long history of external dependence.

Given the previous record of internationally fostered national governments in Somalia, and the far from democratic process leading up to the election, cynics may well be proved right inn their expectations of more of the same. But observes concur in reporting undeniable signs of hope from the Somali capital, including a generally improved security situation, the revival of business activity, return of professionals from exile, and, not least, the unexpected election result despite the fact that it came from an indirect election by parliamentarians who were themselves the result of a very murky selection process.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains (1) a short news summary by IRINNEWS, (2) an analytical article by Abdi Aynte from African Arguments, (3) a blog commentary by Sally Healy, Horn of Africa specialist at Chatham House in London, and (4) biographical background on the new Somali president from the BBC.

For a very informative half-hour discussion of the election, aired just before the unexpected choice of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, see the Inside Story program on Al Jazeera, featuring commentary by Abdi Ismail Samatar; Muhdin Mohammad Ali & Abdirashid Hashi.

A detailed report on the high level of corruption in Somalia's Transitional Federal Government was published in July by the United Nations. See Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea pursuant to Security Council resolution 2002 (2011), available at

Additional recent articles of interest include:

"How the international community has imposed medieval governance on Somalia"
Mohamud M Uluso
Pambazuka News, September 12,2012

"Professor leaves ivory tower to run for president of Somalia"
by Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio, August 29, 2012

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Somalia, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Somalia: Mammoth Task Ahead for New President

12 September 2012

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks.

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

Mogadishu - 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.

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 longterm 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 votebuying 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.

Somalia: Appointment of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud Signals Change and Challenges

By Abdi Aynte, 11 September 2012

African Arguments

Abdi Aynte is a Somali-American journalist and researcher.

On Monday, Somalia lived up to its track record for never re-electing an incumbent leader. President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed lost to a political newcomer, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in a landslide victory that represented a stinging condemnation of the status quo, and an unequivocal vote for change.

The 275-member parliament, which also voted out a widely reviled former speaker and replaced him with a respected legal expert, appeared to be listening to the aspirations of the Somali people for the first time when they picked Mohamud over Ahmed. But the former President was gracious in defeat, delivering a unifying exit speech at a time when the overwhelming majority of the Somali people wanted him to strongly support his successor and cement the optics of nascent democracy.

I've known President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud for sometime. He's a man of integrity and humility and a social entrepreneur who founded one of Somalia's most successful higher education institutions: Simad University in Mogadishu. Mohamud is also accessible and intrepid - a civil society leader who endured Somalia's 21-year-long period of war in the capital. Needless to say, he'll now be evaluated more on his deeds than his personality.

Key tasks

On his first day at work, President Mohamud faces a labyrinth of problems. From terrorism to piracy and rival militias, Somalia has no shortage of tragedies. But during his first 100 days in office, the President needs to focus on achieving - or at least beginning - four fundamental tasks:

Declare war on corruption: The looting of public funds by officials was the most crippling culture which decayed the last government. A new UN report found that the highest officials were swindling eight out of every ten dollars. President Mahmoud must establish and empower - legally, politically and financially - an anti-corruption commission. The commission needs to identify and uproot the deeply entrenched corruption syndicate across government sectors. In the short term, the President should also accept the Joint Financial Management Board envisaged by the international community. The JFMB is designed to ensure transparency and accountability of public funds, but this tool cannot be a long term solution.

Rebuild competent state institutions: After eight years, two Presidents, five Prime Ministers and hundreds of millions of dollars donated by the international community, the only institution that the now expired Transitional Federal Government (TFG) can show its worth for is the National Security Agency (NSA), the intelligence arm of the security services, which is heavily bankrolled by the US, France and other powers. Virtually all other institutions are nothing more than a few lanky men with laptops, folders and Gmail accounts preying upon the innocent public and unsuspecting donors. President Mohamud needs to identify the most vital institutions that should be rebuilt - chiefly the police, the military and coast guard. The quantity of members of the current police and military is not the issue, it's the required quality that is categorically nonexistent.

Reconciliation: There are 2 entities that must be engaged immediately. First, President Mohamud must continue the positive talks between the TFG and the self-declared Republic of Somaliland. The engagement with Somaliland needs to be based on mutual respect, recognition of the human rights atrocities committed by Mohamed Siyad Barre's dictatorship against Somaliland and exploration of a common path between the two brothers. Second, President Mohamud should form a new, credible National Reconciliation Commission whose main task is to reach out to the nationalist elements within al-Shabaab. Some of these figures have had a personal beef with the former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, whom they consider to have betrayed them. There's a good chance that pragmatic figures will now abandon al-Shabaab and rejoin the national dispensation, all the while isolating the global jihadist wing.

Constitutional and governmental overhaul: The now defunct TFG had imposed a new 'Draft Constitution' on the Somali people with almost no public consultations. The document institutionalizes sectarianism, sets the country on the road to renewed, clan-based civil unrest and effectively puts the duly elected President on a collision course with his appointed future Prime Minister. The document grants oversized powers to an unelected Prime Minister over the elected president - a perennial source of infighting in the government. The 'Constitution' also creates a convoluted and unworkable federal structure for one of the most homogeneous and smallest countries (population wise) in Africa.

Despite resistance from some corners, President Mohamud must be bold in re-drafting the constitution and reducing the job of the prime minister to a subordinate figure responsible for coordinating cabinet business. But the president must also recognize and appreciate the aspirations of the Somali people who yearn for local control over their government and the delivery of rudimentary services at the local and regional level. He must stand firm so that he can achieve these aspirations without creating a practically inapplicable federal structure. The UK system of governance provides an excellent model, where decentralized authority ensures fair political representation both at local and national levels.

The role of external actors

For years, members of the international community have been micromanaging the politics of Somalia from afar, often in pursuit of wrongheaded policies. The exception to this is the African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM), which has shown a remarkable degree of neutrality.

In order for this government to succeed, external actors must take two steps: First, they should immediately cease their appetite for meddling and imposing their will on Somali governments. President Mohamud has an unrivaled legitimacy from the Somali people. The Nairobi-based politicians should give him space to chart his own path - and make mistakes along the way.

Second, the international community ought to change the culture of supporting individuals over institutions. Much of the failure of Somalia's institutions stems from foreign powers giving an outsized influence to unelected politicians and armed groups. The most jarring example was handing over the whole Roadmap Process that has brought us to this point, to six, widely unpopular and unrepresentative politicians. A phalanx of foreign-backed armed groups - Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama and Raskamboni, among others - continues to challenge the authority of security forces.

Finally, President Mohamud needs to begin the difficult task of taming extremely high expectations. The monumental challenges currently facing the country are simply too prohibitive for one leader to tackle. He must, however, demonstrate the will to usher in change.

A new president for Somalia

By Sally Healy
The Independent, Blog, 15 September 2012

The election of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud by Somalia's Transitional Parliament earlier this week was an unexpected success for the hugely discredited political process in Somalia. It could prove to be a turning point in the country's recovery. With twenty five candidates standing, numerous doubts about the integrity of the new parliament and widespread reports of bribery for their votes, it was largely assumed that the post would go to the highest bidder. And it seemed a certainty this would be one of the usual suspects: President Sheikh Sharif, Prime Minister Abdi Weli or former Speaker Sherif Hassan. How nice it is to be wrong!

Hassan Sheikh's victory is a useful reminder of the capacity of Somalia to surprise the outside world. Beyond the facade of internationally constructed governments, we know so little about how this country without a national government really works. Hassan Sheikh is largely unknown outside Somalia but he is very well known and respected in Mogadishu where he founded and runs the Somali Institute of Management and Development, now a university.

He has also played a leading role in the various civic and philanthropic forums that provide the backbone of social and economic support so essential to Somali survival. The most important of these was a civic initiative known as the Mogadishu Security and Stabilisation Plan that tried to reestablish administrative structures before the rise of the Islamic Courts. His own account of this period provides a good insight into his political principles, above all a consistent message that without reconciliation no real progress can be made in rebuilding formal institutions.

I have worked with Hassan Sheikh on a couple of assignments. He is a very engaging, thoughtful and sincerely religious man. But what struck me most was his quiet confidence in the future of Somalia. He believes in the strength and the integrity of the Somali people and in their capacity to recover and to thrive again. Perhaps this is because he has operated for so long within Somali civil society, where such huge achievements have been made. Maintaining that confidence will be tougher in the grubby world of politics where we have become conditioned to expect failure.

Needless to say, the problems he will face are enormous. Al Shabab remains the immediate challenge in South Central Somalia, although it is contained for the time being by AMISOM forces. The formation of national security forces to replace AMISOM is still at a rudimentary stage. Neither the long drawn out political 'transition' (in progress since 2004) nor the hastily concocted constitution has resolved the big questions about Somalia's political future, including the nature of the federal system and the relationship with Somaliland. There is no legacy from the TFG in terms of government structures, institutions or even the beginnings of a functioning civil service.

Hassan Sheikh nonetheless starts with some important assets. He is his own man. He is not part of the discredited political establishment. He lives in Mogadishu and has not been plucked from the Somali diaspora. He is not in the pocket of any foreign power. The political party he formed in April 2011 has provided a structure and network of supporters that will certainly have been working through informal clan channels to deliver this unexpected election victory. He offers a new approach to solving Somalia's problems of government, first and foremost a political approach, with reconciliation as its starting point.

Some credit is due to the international actors. They have stuck with grim determination to their "road map" to end the transition and put an end to the self-?serving extensions of the TFG mandate. Whatever its shortcomings, the process to end the transition - the expansion of parliament, the involvement of clans, the insistence on the timetable and the unavoidable election - created just enough political space for a credible Somali leader to slip through.

Hassan Sheikh will undoubtedly face enmity from the people who have profiteered for so long from Somali politics. He may be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task he confronts. But if he can tap into and draw strength from those enduring civic networks that he has helped to nurture, he stands a better chance of succeeding than any of his predecessors.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud: Somalia's new president profiled

September 11, 2012

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's dogged determination not to give up on Somalia despite years of conflict, warlordism, piracy and Islamist insurgency has finally paid off.

The peace activist and educational campaigner remained in Somalia throughout the 21-year civil war unlike many other Somali intellectuals.

He defeated former President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in a run-off with a convincing majority of Somali MPs.

Both men hail from the Hawiye clan - one of the country's main groups based in the capital, Mogadishu. But, unlike his predecessor, clan - which influences all walks of life in Somalia - was not the driving force behind Mr Mohamud's victory.

Analysts say it is the fact that the academic had not dirtied himself with politics or clan conflicts that set him out from the rest.

Instead, he has won respect for his work in civil society and education, being one of the founders of Mogadishu's Simad university, where he was a lecturer and served as its first dean for 10 years until he resigned to enter politics. One of his former students who graduated in 2004 told the BBC he was an easy-going tutor, not quick to anger and an impressive orator.

"He could entertain us for two hours during lectures on management, making jokes and people laugh," he told the BBC Somali service.

Born in central Hiran province in 1955, he grew up in a middle-class neighbourhood of Mogadishu and graduated from the Somali National University with a technical engineering degree in 1981.

His contemporaries say he was quiet and unassuming and went on to become a teacher before doing a post-graduate degree in Bhopal University, India.

On his return, he joined the Ministry of Education to oversee a teach-training scheme funded by Unesco.

Clan disputes

When the central government collapsed in 1991, he joined Unicef as an education officer, travelling around south and central Somalia, which he said enabled him to see "the magnitude of the collapse in education sector".

Three years later, he established one of the first primary schools in Mogadishu since the war broke out.

He also has links with al-Islah, the Somali branch of the Muslim brotherhood which was vital in rebuilding the education system in the wake of the clan conflicts.

It set up many schools with Muslim curriculums similar to those in Sudan and Egypt but is strongly opposed to alShabab.

Described as a moderate Islamist, Mr Mohamud is also said to have been close to the Union of Islamist Courts (UIC). His followers say he simply supported any activity aiming to restore peace and stability.

The UIC was a grouping of local Islamic courts, initially set up by businessmen to establish some form of order in the lawless state, which brought relative peace to the country in 2006, before Ethiopia invaded and overthrew them - frightened by the al-Qaeda linked al-Shabab militia that was gaining power in the courts.

During the 1990s, Mr Mohamud became very involved in civil society groups and people close to him say he is known for resolving clan disputes.

His first real success on this score was his participation in negotiations in 1997 that oversaw the removal of the infamous "Green Line" which divided Mogadishu into two sections controlled by rival clan warlords.

Described by some in the early 1990s as the "cancer of Mogadishu", the division made life difficult for city residents and politicians alike.

In 2001, he joined the Centre for Research and Dialogue as a researcher in post-conflict reconstruction - a body sometimes criticised as being too closely affiliated to the West - and has worked as a consultant to various UN bodies and the transitional government.

As a regular participant on the influential weekly BBC Somali service debating programme, he underlined the importance of including civil society groups in the "roadmap to peace" which eventually led to his election.

Married to two wives and with several children, some of whom live in Somalia and others abroad, his motivation seems to come from wanting to build a future for the younger generation.

Last year, he set up the Peace and Development Party (PDP), which he made clear was above clan politics.

The BBC's Daud Aweis in Mogadishu says Mr Mohamud is a man who likes to consult others.

"In the various Somali conferences I met him, he showed the attitude of being able and willing to talk to everyone," he said.

Who is Hassan Sheikh Mohamud?

  • Born in central Hiran region in 1955
  • From the major Hawiye clan
  • Married, speaks Somali and English
  • Linked to al-Islah, Somalia's branch of the Muslim Brotherhood
  • Studied engineering at the Somali National University and became a lecturer in 1981
  • Five years later went to India to study, obtaining an MBA from Bhopal University
  • Stayed in Somalia during the civil war, working as a consultant with non-governmental groups, UN bodies and on several peace initiatives
  • Helped set up the Simad University in 1999, and was its dean for 10 years
  • Founded his Peace and Development Party (PDP) in 2011
  • Elected an MP in August 2012

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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