Somalia's presidential newcomer faces tough job
MOGADISHU, Somalia -- While international leaders on Tuesday urged Somalia’s new president to move swiftly to establish an inclusive government in order to rebuild his ruined nation, the Islamic militia that controls much of the country called him a traitor.
In a statement from New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Hassan Sheik Mohamud and called on him to move swiftly to establish a broad-based government. Mohamud's first task will be to select a prime minister.
But Sheik Ali Mahmud Rage, a spokesman for the Al Qaeda-linked militia Al Shabab, said that Mohamud represented Western interests and that his election by parliament was manipulated by outside powers in a bid to steal Somali resources, Reuters reported.
Al Shabab's fighters withdrew from Mogadishu in August 2011 and have since lost control of several important provincial towns. However, they retain the capacity to unleash attacks and assassinations in the Somali capital.
The election of Mohamud, an academic, civic activist and opposition politician, was widely viewed as a surprise because he is a political newcomer from outside Somalia's political elite. He faces the difficult task of uniting Somalia’s fractious clans, overcoming the legacy of 21 years as a failed state and dealing with the ongoing rebellion by Al Shabab.
Some Somalis are skeptical that Mohamud will be capable of exerting control over the powerful clan warlords. But for many others, he represents hope -- mainly because he was not part of the corrupt and unpopular transitional government that ruled for eight years. His credibility is also enhanced by his decision to stay in Somalia during the conflict while some political figures immigrated to the U.S., Canada or Europe and came home only to contest the election.
Abdiassis Mumin Dahi, 40, owner of a construction materials shop, said Tuesday that Mohamud's major disadvantage in the vote was his lack of political experience.
"Hassan Sheik Mohamud has had no political experience in the past, no strong knowledge of the government system and no strong links with the neighboring countries and the international community," he said, sipping tea from a glass in his shop. "In fact, given all those factors, it seemed there was no way for him to succeed in getting elected."
But he said Mohamud's strategy of forming an opposition party including people without links to the former transitional federal government had paid off.
Mohamud has worked as a teacher, UNICEF education officer and civic activist. He founded a university in Mogadishu in 1999 and an opposition party, the Party for Peace and Development, last year. He worked for a brief period as a consultant to the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation of the former transitional federal government in 2009 and 2010.
Ayradrus Muuse Ahmed, 65, a Somali elder, told The Times in an interview that Mohamud deserved the post of president because he had no history of wrongdoing in Somalia.
"People are enthusiastic about him because he is neither from warlord groups nor from diaspora," said Ahmed. "I believe that he understands the urgent need for grassroots security and stability."
He said Mohamud's presence in the country during the years of war meant he understood the country's difficult clan politics better than figures from the diaspora.
Hawa Ali Alisow, 35, a mother of six and a vegetable seller in Hamarjajab district, was hopeful Mohamud would usher in a fair and just system and improve educational institutions.
"I hope that he will begin improvements and come up with changes," she said, "unlike the recent former leaders of the country."
--Lutfi Sheriff Mohammed in Mogadishu and Robyn Dixon in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Photo: Somalis wearing T-shirts with a picture of Somalia's new president, Hassan Sheik Mohamud, march through the streets of Mogadishu on Tuesday to show their support. Credit: Farah Abdi Warsameh / Associated Press.