On the 8th of February, 2017, the Federal Republic of Somalia elected a new president, a Somali-US national, and Ex-Prime Minister named Mohammed Abdullahi ‘Farmajo’, Farmajo meaning cheese in Somali. Nothing particularly remarkable you would think, just a standard election African election right? Wrong.
This is Somalia after all, a country, nation, state (depending on your viewpoint/concept surrounding Westphalia and identity) that has seen over 25 years of civil war. Somalia, as any observer of international relations, African/ME politics, and/or diplomatic discourse will tell you had become a byword for statelessness, anarchy, clan warfare, terrorism, and piracy, one that happens to be in a strategically significant location.
Just as the term ‘Balkanisation’, a geopolitical term that has its origins in the fragmentation of the former Yugoslav Republic, gained popularity in the early 90’s, the term ‘failed state’ cut it teeth in anarchy that befell The Somalia Democratic Republic. Merely type in ‘failed state’ in Google and see what comes up, I just did, no guesses for which country comes up first.
While you’re on Google, also feel free to look up ‘Somali Syndrome’.
The election of Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo can be considered remarkable for a number of reasons. Not least because the electoral process in Somalia has been noted to be notoriously corrupt and biased in favour of a candidate’s clan. The incumbent, Hassan Sheikh, is said to have used state assets to push forward his election campaign, he also unceremoniously ejected 2 previous prime ministers, bribing, arm twisting, and horse trading with parliament.
Based on the Somali federal constitution a President can hire a Prime minister, but cannot fire him, only parliament can. As a side note Somalia is considered the most corrupt country on the planet by transparency international.
There is also the question of influences, subtle and not so subtle, wielded by Somalia’s neighbours have also been electorally contributing factors. ‘Coincidentally’ 2 of these neighbours have a defence pact against Somalia. They have also traditionally backed clan based regional states within the Somali peninsula, arming, funding, and giving them diplomatic cover, one would think that they are investing in the ‘Balkanisation’ of Somalia (see what I did there?) Farmajo certainly isn’t their man.
See the face of General Gebre when the results came in, Gebre is referred to as ‘the informal Abyssinian governor’, or just plainly one of the heads of Ethiopian military intelligence in Somalia.
Lastly, and certainly not least, the general euphoria among Somali’s globally has been not just shocking but uplifting. There have been mass protests in the streets in support of the new president, this in regions that would traditionally be anti-central government, the value of the Somali shilling went up, regional flags were removed in favour of the national flag, and certain sections of the Al Shabaab movement have said they would surrender to the new government. Not bad after just a few days.
Prior to taking office Farmajo worked as a commissioner for equal employment for the New York State department for transportation in Buffalo. He holds a Baccalaureate and masters in the political social sciences; he also worked as an embassy clerk for the Somali embassy in the late. He is experienced, educated, and based on his experiences diligent, or at least he is seen as.
As Prime Minster, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo is by no means the new guy; he served as Prime Minister for less than a year in 2010. He was seen by the public as honest and sincere, he was also seen as courageous against stakeholders, internal and external, arguing for the salaries of soldiers and civil servants to actually be paid. This seems a standard right? Wrong!
In a country like Somalia that could spell the end of your political career. Those syphoning money are often quite powerful politically; the establishment of a strong civil service would be against their interests as that would undermine their informal structures of power and revenue, you can’t have that, a warlord or ‘parliamentarian’ as they often call themselves, has got to eat….
Farmajo also advocated for the establishment of a Strong Somali army, he refused to see the logic, behind having a 22,000 strong African force ‘Amisom’, when the same support could be given to the indigenous force. Amisom soldiers are paid by international donors, when payments are late the countries providing troops threaten to pull out….Somali’s refer to them as ‘Mercenaries’ as they are considered loyal to money only.
Based on the above it isn’t hard to see why Somali’s within the peninsula and globally are quite hopeful, nonetheless, Mr Cheese/the big Cheese has a full plate. He is dealing with regional states that have often been reluctant in dealing with the central government, they often fight amongst themselves. He would have to deal with the corruption that is rampant with government institutions. He would have also to deal with a famine currently affecting the peninsula as well as the Al Qaida-aligned insurgency and the new Daish Affiliate. They fight amongst themselves also.
Farmajo must combat with private militias aligned to clans, religious orders, or foreign states as well as deal with Somalia’s neighbours some of which have troops within the AMISOM mission. They also have a stake in Farmajo’s failure. He would have to build a functioning, capable National Army, one that is able to project power internally and externally. He would have to deal with land and property allocation issues that have stifled issues related to peace in the major cities and towns.
Only Allah knows where all of the above will take Somalia, let us all pray that this new hope leads to new- better realities as opposed to the old ones.
Robleh Abdi, Student of IR and economics...young Muslim and opinionated..