Somalia’s parliament recently appointed a new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (nicknamed Farmajo). Farmajo is an oil executive, US national, humanitarian and political outsider with a lot of hype behind him. Farmajo comes into office with the backing of a fresh and young parliament as well as the renewed hopes of many of his countrymen. However Farmajo also enters his presidency during a time where war, famine and corruption run rampant across Somalia. Even the legitimacy of Farmajo’s election and Somalia’s recently formed central government has been challenged.
Holding elections in Somalia was no easy task as the country is still recuperating from the divides of civil war. To make matters worse, the militant Islamic movement Al-Shabaab still fights against the Somali government and launches regular attacks on Mogadishu, the country’s capitol. Because of security threats the election had to be delayed a couple of times and had to change format. The elections in Somalia quickly became a large, confusing process riddled with bribery and deal-making. Thousands of clan elders – voting on behalf of their clans, villages and regions – chose members of parliament and senators who then in turn picked a president first out of a pool of 21 candidates. When no candidate had the votes needed to win, there was a runoff election with just 4 candidates.
Clan elders speaking to the New York Times claimed that bribery was rampant and very difficult to avoid. Even foreign countries such as Turkey and the UAE may have participated in the bribery. The previous President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamed, had been accused of using government funds to buy his way back into power as well, leading many Somalians to see Farmajo’s election as a victory over corruption.
To score a deeper victory against corruption, Farmajo will have to govern very well. Transparency International, an organization that monitors government corruption, ranks Somalia as the most corrupt nation on the planet. Marqaati, a Somalian anti-corruption organization, said that Somalia’s election, “is probably the most expensive election, per vote, in history” because of bought votes. Somalia is a country where the central government has not had direct power to govern for a long time and sections of the country are entirely autonomous.
Sections of the country are also under the control of the militant Al-Shabaab – another element Formajo has to fight. Fortunately for Farmajo, Somalia, with help from African Union forces and US aid, has made big pushes against Al-Shabaab in recent years. Yet as Al-Shabaab dwindles some of its soldiers have broken off to form ties with IS, potentially creating an enemy just as dangerous.
Finally, the new government in Somalia has to fend against forces of nature as well. A new famine descending on Somalia has already left at least 110 people dead, causing the government to declare a state of emergency. According to the World Health Organization this is Somalia’s third famine in the last 25 years, leading the UN to request nearly 1 billion dollars in humanitarian aid to support starving Somalis.
Despite facing dilemmas from old conflicts, new militants, enormous corruption and famine, Farmajo inspires hope. In the Somali diaspora many Somalis celebrate the election of Farmajo – a man they see not only as an honest reformer but a sign that Somalis who once left the country as refugees can return to help it. Even neighboring leaders from Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia have rallied around Farmajo, expressing high hopes – and support – for his presidency. After winning the election, Farmajo declared “a new beginning” for Somalia, and given the hope placed in the new government, he’s not being unreasonable.