Somalia’s Peaceful Presidential Handover Bolsters Hope
A Washington D.C. taxi driver from Somalia reflected the mixture of relief and anxiety among his countrymen back home and other observers the day after the country’s latest momentous election last week. “My heart is smiling,” he told me after I’d greeted him with some of the few words of Somali that I know. But our conversation soon turned, naturally, to the hurdles yet to come for a strategic but struggling coastal sliver along the Horn of Africa.
The surprise victory of former Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” Mohamed over incumbent President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Feb. 8 by a 184-97 vote margin marked the third consecutive peaceful election of a president for Somalia since the country began emerging from decades of war. Although, for security reasons, it was members of parliament selecting the president in a secret ballot rather than the general election hoped for last year, the result is a remarkable feat. Just over a decade ago, the country was considered a failed state, stuck in an abyss of sectarianism, factionalism, government corruption and war that all provided a ripe environment for transnational terrorist groups.
Slowly and with intense international aid and guidance as well as recent investment from Gulf countries such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, Somalia is trying to climb out of that abyss. Emerging from more than two decades of war, it still easily fits the description of fragile. But the peaceful, congratulatory images of Farmajo flanked by his most recent two predecessors, Mohamud and Sharif Shaikh Ahmed, after the election was another sign that Somalia is emerging from the rubble.
Somalia remains a hopeful yet closely watched experiment for regional and international players, in part because of the massive challenge of rebuilding the country and the society at every level all at once. Amid rampant government corruption, societal divisions and continuing small-scale attacks by the al-Shabab extremist group, the government and its international backers are trying to restore basic services such as schools, health clinics and infrastructure.