Somalia elects a new president, but terrorists hold the real power

MOGADISHU, Somalia – In a fortified tent guarded by peacekeepers, hundreds of lawmakers elected a new president in Somalia on Sunday, ca...


MOGADISHU, Somalia – In a fortified tent guarded by peacekeepers, hundreds of lawmakers elected a new president in Somalia on Sunday, capping a violent election season that threatened to push the Horn of Africa nation towards the collapse.

The selection of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a former president, in Mogadishu ended a bitter election period marred by corruption, a president’s bid to cling to power and fierce street fighting. Mr Mohamud beat three dozen candidates after three rounds of voting, including President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who drew condemnation after extending his term last year.

The vote, delayed for almost two years, took place in the middle galloping inflation and deadly drought which left nearly 40 percent of the country starving. The streets of Mogadishu, the capital, were closed on Sunday and the police announced a curfew until Monday morning.

Yukies and cheers erupted in the lawmakers’ tent after Mr Mohamud was declared the winner. Festive gunfire rang out in parts of the capital, witnesses said. Earlier in the day, several loud explosions could be heard near the fortified compound where the vote took place, but this did not disrupt the process.

Credit…Faisal Omar/Reuters

“Our country must move forward, not back,” Mohamud said after being sworn in early Monday. “I promise to build a Somalia in harmony with itself and in harmony with the world.”

Mr Mohamud, 66, will face a host of challenges during his four-year term, particularly the strength of al Shabab, a terror group that has a firm grip on much of the country.

Somalia’s 16 million people have suffered from decades of civil wars, poor governance and terrorism. The central government has been bolstered by African Union peacekeepers and Western aid, including billions of dollars in humanitarian aid and security assistance from the United States, which have sought to prevent Somalia from becoming a haven for terrorists.

The president was chosen by 328 legislators, who were chosen by clan representatives. Mr. Mohamud received 214 votes against 110 for Mr. Mohamed. A few votes were canceled and a sick MP was excused.

Mr. Mohamud, who served as president from 2012 to 2017, was born in Somalia’s central Hiran region. A peace activist and educator, he co-founded a college that has become one of the largest in Somalia.

Mr. Mohamud succeeds Mr. Mohamed, a former U.S. citizen and bureaucrat, who ruled the country for five years. Mr. Mohamed has been accused of cracking down on the opposition and on journalists, foment a break with neighboring Kenya and undermine the power-sharing model that has strengthened the country’s federal system.

The Shabab, which are linked to al-Qaeda, have exploited political instability and bitter divisions between security forces for grow and grow stronger, say the experts. After more than 16 years, the group now has broad powers: to extort taxes, try court cases, force minors into its ranks and carry out suicide attacks.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, the group killed civilians, including at beach-side restaurants, launched a major offensive on an African Union base – killing at least 10 Burundian peacekeepers – and sent suicide bombers to jump on the cars of government officials.

In interviews with more than two dozen Somali citizens, lawmakers, analysts, diplomats and aid workers ahead of Sunday’s vote, many expressed concern about how deteriorating political, security and humanitarian conditions had toppled the few years of stability obtained after the expulsion of Al Shabab. the capital in 2011.

“These are five lost years, the ones in which we lost the cohesion of the country,” said Hussein Sheikh-Ali, former national security adviser to Mr. Mohamed and president of the Hiraal Institute, a research center in Mogadishu, about Mr. Mohamed’s presidency.

Protracted political battles, particularly over elections, have undermined the government’s ability to deliver key services, observers say, even as it secured debt relief and pushed to join the global financial system. Critics and opposition figures have also accused President Mohamed of trying to hold on to power at all costs, pressuring the electoral commission, installing heads of state who would help influence elections and trying to fill Parliament with supporters using the intelligence agency.

Last year, when he signed a law extend his mandate for two years, fighting broke out in the capitalin the streets, forcing him to change course.

Observers said the election of lawmakers last year was plagued by corruption.

Abdi Ismail Samatar, a first-time Somali senator and professor at the University of Minnesota who studies democracy in Africa, said this election cycle could be ranked as “the worst” in Somalia’s history.

“I don’t think I could have ever imagined how corrupt and selfish it is,” Mr. Samatar said, adding, “I’ve seen people receive money in elections for the presidency just in front of my face in the hallway.”

Larry E. André Jr., the US ambassador to Somalia, said the majority of parliamentary seats had been selected by regional leaders, “sold” or “auctioned”.

The United States imposed visa sanctions in February and March on Somali officials and others accused of undermining the parliamentary elections, which finally ended in late April.

Due to the indirect nature of the presidential vote, candidates did not campaign on the streets. Instead, they met legislators and clan elders in luxury hotels and resorts guarded by soldiers and blast walls. Some candidates have put up election billboards, promising good governance, justice and peace.

But few in this seaside town believe the politicians will keep their promises.

“Everyone is wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase and promising to be as sweet as honey,” said Jamila Adan, a political science student at City University. “But we don’t believe them.”

Her big business friend Anisa Abdullahi agreed, saying those running for office could not identify with the daily tribulations of ordinary Somalis.

“They never give people the impression that the government comes from the people and is supposed to serve the people,” she said.

Given the infighting and government paralysismany Somalis wonder if a new administration will make a difference.

Some Somalis have turned to the Shabab for services that would ideally be provided by a functioning state. Many Mogadishu residents regularly travel to areas tens of kilometers north of the city to have their cases heard in mobile courts run by Shabab.

One of them is Ali Ahmed, a businessman from a minority tribe whose family home in Mogadishu was occupied for years by members of a powerful tribe. Mr Ahmed said the Shabab-run court decided the occupiers should vacate his house – and they did.

“It’s sad, but no one is going to the government for justice,” he said. “Even the government judges will secretly advise you to go to Al Shabab.”

Traders pay taxes to the Shabab, fearing threats to their businesses and lives.

“While the government is busy on its own, we are suffering,” said Abdow Omar, who runs a flour and sugar import business in the capital and pays activists about $4,000 a year. “The Shabab are like a mafia group. You must either obey them or close your business. There is no freedom.

Some officials admit the government’s shortcomings. Al Shabab was able to expand its tax base because “the elected officials were too busy doing politics instead of doing political work”, said a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity due to lack of permission to speak to the media.

Sunday’s election came as parts of Somalia faced the worst drought in four decades. Some six million people are extremely short of food, according to the World Food Programwith nearly 760,000 people moved.

Nearly 900,000 of those affected live in areas administered by Al Shabab, according to the UN. Aid organizations are unable to reach them there, harvests are poor and the Shabab are demanding taxes on cattle, according to interviews with officials and displaced people.

To find food and water, families travel hundreds of kilometres, sometimes on foot, to towns and villages like Mogadishu and Doolow in the southern Gedo region. Some parents said they buried their children along the way, while others left weak children behind to rescue more resilient ones.

Dealing with the Shabab will be one of the first challenges facing the next Somali government, said Afyare Abdi Elmi, executive director of the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies in Mogadishu.

But the new leader, he said, must also come up with a new constitution, reform the economy, tackle climate change, open dialogue with the breakaway region of Somaliland and unite a polarized nation.

“Governance in Somalia has become too confrontational in recent years,” Elmi said. “It was like pulling teeth. People are now ready for a new dawn.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Somalia elects a new president, but terrorists hold the real power
Somalia elects a new president, but terrorists hold the real power
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