Securing Somalia

The Challenges Awaiting Its New President

Somalia's newly elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, flanked by outgoing president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, carries their national flag during the hand-over ceremony at the presidential palace in Mogadishu, February 2017. Feisal Omar / REUTERS

After several months of delay, a new president of Somalia was elected on February 8, 2017. The fact that an election took place at all should be counted a success.

Despite the so-called Somali New Deal Compact of September 2013, in which the country’s government pledged to international donors and its people that it would hold an inclusive election by the end of 2016, the process was highly imperfect in both design and execution. Once again, insecurity stemming from the jihadist al Shabab insurgency, clan rivalries, tensions among newly formed subfederal states, and violent criminality prevented a broadly participatory national election. Instead, the vote was left to 14,000 elders and influential political figures who, over the course of several months, elected 275 members of the Parliament and 54 senators. These officials went on to pick the new president. Extensive corruption and vote buying tainted the process. To secure support from the elders and influentials, potential parliamentarians were reputed to have paid tens of thousands of dollars for a vote. Intimidation and clan politics also marred the process. But the fact that the incumbent President Hassan Sheik Mohamud accepted defeat and stepped down is an important win, not just for Somalia itself but in the continent more broadly.

The new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, has some strong credentials, not the least of which is a reputation for not being corrupt. He is a dual citizen of Somalia and the United States, with technocratic experience from both countries. But Mohamed, known by his nickname Farmajo (derived from the Italian word for cheese), is facing many tough challenges. These include fractious politics and entrenched corruption, a stubborn insurgency and insecurity, and an increasingly challenging external environment.


Coping with clan divisions will be the new president’s first challenge. It will be difficult for him to persuade the Hawiyes, the largest clan and one of the rival groups of the Darod clan from which he hails, that he will govern impartially. And even if he does that, he will have trouble

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