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“Make Somalia Great Again”

The socio-political situation in Somalia has grabbed numerous headlines over the years since Somalia achieved independence in 1960, a product of intense domestic turmoil. Incessant civil wars, the threatening and growing presence of Al Shabab in West Africa and poor economic conditions for much of the population has had Somalia resting on shaky foundations.

Because of these factors, the Global Policy Forum has continuously classified Somalia as a “Failed State” over the years. In other words, a state that “can no longer perform the basic functions of a state”, such as providing “adequate education, security, or governance”, usually due to fractious violence or extreme poverty. A striking example of the weakness of the state is characterized by the necessity of an external military presence to ensure security within the nation’s border. Since 2007 AMISOM, the African Union Mission to Somalia, aims at protecting and containing the population against the armed militant group Al Shabab. This extremist Islamic Group has become an increasing menace to the stability of several East African nations, often using bloody terror attacks and abductions. Most recently, on February 19th, a car explosion in the capital Mogadishu resulted in the death of 34 Somali citizens while wounding several others. This dark reality gives little room for hope. Yet recently, there seems to be renewed aspirations in the heart of Somalis. The reason ? The newly elected president of Somalia: Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” Mohamed.

Who is Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ?

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed took office on February 8th 2017, replacing the previous leader Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has an interesting background compared to the other men who held his position before him. He left Somalia in the early 1990s, having been forced out as a result of his criticism towards the government in power at the time. As a consequence, most of his career transpired away far from the political arena of Somalia, working in the United States in the New York Department of Transportation. It is only in 2010 that Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, appointed as Prime Minister under a new government, came back to Somalia.  The steps and resolutions he took during his time in office earned him the monicker “man of the people”, a title bestowed upon him by his supporters. After only a few days in power, Somalia’s new president goals and policy agenda became clear. He officially characterized the ongoing drought in Somalia as a “National Disaster” to be resolved immediately and he took an intransigent position on Al Shabab, declaring them ‘an evil to be eradicated’.

What is to be expected ?

A new, different figure at the head of a  country long torn apart by warfare has brought hope and great expectations of positive change. Expectations of hope that were quite nonexistent before. However, how much change can Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed really affect in a country that has been broken for so long? Following his election, criticism rose quickly following the rumors of corruption that surrounded the presidential elections, a staple that has been a part of Somalia’s political process for a long time. It is a fact highlighted by Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Index, classifying Somalia as the most corrupt country in the world. In light of this information, we ought to be wondering how much change can truly be achieved when corrupt practices surrounding democratic foundations still remain.  Is corruption a part of the political game and a necessary element considering the current political climate?

Political map of Somalia - 2016

Furthermore, how much power does the office of the President in Somalia have? Both constitutionally and practically, governing over a war torn, unstable country often creates barriers to national power. The area surrounding Mogadishu has been considered a stronghold of the Somali government. However, Somalia is divided between different zones of influence. Al Shabab has control over almost a third of the country (in blue on the map). The borders between Al Shabab forces and AMISOM are a constant fight for power. Lastly, Somalia faces the break of two of its regions, Somaliland and Puntland which are respectively self-declared independent and semi-autonomous.  Given the current situation, is it difficult to talk about Somalia as a prototypical “nation-state”. Following the numerous political crises and civil wars, the Somali population has been facing the pressure of violence, famine and forced migrations, the result being the outpour of people into neighbouring countries.  The UNHCR counts as much as 885 284 registered Somali refugees, with Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia serving as the most common hosts.

In sum, it will be a difficult social, economic and political situation that the new President has to face. A situation that will take great internal, regional and international effort to bring to fruition. Slow advancements are already taking place, for instance regarding the empowerment of Somali women. Today, women hold 30%  of the seats in Parliament. A percentage qualified as a “milestone” by the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia. However, while it is too early to tell how substantial an effect the new Somali President will have, it is undeniable that a new wind blows. As Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said himself, “for the past 26 years there have been conflicts and droughts, it will take other 20 years to fix this country.”

Photo : Flickr, Public Domain. Inauguration ceremony of Somalia’s new President

Map : Labeled for Reuse

About Zineb El Koulali

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