After two rounds of voting on some three dozen candidates, Somali electors have chosen a new president for the East African country: Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
- He served a previous five-year term before the outgoing president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmaajo.
- “I welcome my brother here, the new president Hassan Sheik Mohamud and wish him luck with the huge task… we will be in solidarity with him,” Farmaajo said following Sunday’s election.
The election was nearly a year-and-a-half late, coming after a power crisis that threatened civil war. After forces loyal to Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble rejected an attempt by Farmaajo to extend his term by two years in order to overcome long-standing election process disagreements, the president yielded control over the planning process as well as the term extension.
Before Mohamud could be elected, however, the East African nation had to select an upper and lower house of parliament, due to its indirect voting system. Those elections were held over the course of several months in late 2021, even as Roble and Farmaajo continued to spar over political control.
Omar Mahmood, an analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank, told AFP the gap was a “lost year for Somalia.”
“This long-awaited election has been divisive. Reconciliation is the most immediate challenge,” Mahmood said.
The election comes amid a prolonged drought that has imperiled millions of subsistence farmers in the region, as well as continued conflict with al-Shabaab, a militant group aligned with Al-Qaeda* that has terrorized the country for more than a decade.
An educator who worked with the UN children’s fund UNICEF, Mohamud founded the Peace and Development Party, which has political links with al-Islah, the Somali branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist group played a major role in re-establishing a national education system in the wake of the civil war and is starkly opposed to the extremism of al-Shabaab.
Mohamud was also reportedly close to the Islamic Courts Union, the first attempt at re-establishing a government after the civil war, which was destroyed in 2006 by a US-backed invasion by Ethiopian forces. Al-Shabaab arose in the aftermath of the Ethiopian occupation.
Just hours after Mohamud’s victory, US President Joe Biden approved a Pentagon request to re-establish a “persistent presence” in Somalia, which in Pentagon terminology refers to the stationing of fewer than 500 troops.
In the final months of Donald Trump’s presidential administration, the US pulled its 750 troops out of Somalia. However, they continued to fly drones and spy aircraft over the country and to “commute” to the battlefield from nearby US bases in Djibouti and Kenya – something a US official described to Axios on Monday as “inefficient” and “disruptive.”
“Al-Shabab has taken advantage of Somali instability and fractious politics to become al-Qaeda’s largest and wealthiest global affiliate. It exerts influence essentially throughout the country of Somalia,” the official said. “We’re concerned about the potential for al-Shabab’s upward battlefield and financial trajectory to generate more space for the group to plan and ultimately to execute external attacks.”