Why is there so much excitement around the former prime minister's surprise appointment as Somalia's new president?
On 8 February, the protracted Somalia elections finally came to an end to widespread celebrations and surprise as Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo was appointed as the new president.
The former prime minister was one of 21 candidates vying to be Somalia's 9th president in a process involving 329 newly-elected lawmakers. The decision went to a second round of voting in which Farmaajo received 184 votes to the incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's 97, prompting to the latter to concede peacefully.
This outcome came as a huge but largely welcome shock to most.
Who is Farmaajo?
It is what happened in the following seven months that made him perhaps Somalia's most popular politician in recent times.
Unlike so many of Somalia's politicians, Farmaajo made an immediate and tangible difference on coming into office. For the first time since 1991, he reduced the cabinet from the customary 31 members down to a core of just 18, dropping redundant departments such as the Ministry of Tourism and Wild Animals. He fought corruption, establishing an Anti-Corruption Commission and increasing transparency around government spending and ministers' assets. And he ensured salaries were disbursed to government workers and soldiers who hadn't been paid for months, an accomplishment for which he is still fondly remembered.
In 2011, however, the prime minister's term came to an abrupt end. The president and then Speaker of Parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden had been embroiled in a bitter power struggle for months, and it was only resolved when the two struck a deal that included an agreement that Farmaajo would step down.
The resignation of the admired prime minister triggered days of demonstrations across Somalia and abroad, with protesters blaming foreign interference for his removal. Farmaajo's popularity was particularly notable in Mogadishu from which his clansmen, including former President Siad Barre, had been indiscriminately driven out in the 1990s civil war. His acceptance in the capital served as a reminder of how far Somalia has come.
The biggest mandate
To achieve this, it is imperative that he avoids the mistakes of his predecessors, particularly in four key areas.
Firstly, Farmaajo must take great care in appointing his prime minister. The past four presidents all struggled with this and each went through at least three different PMs, with almost all the partnerships ending in acrimony. In some instances, internal conflicts lasted months, derailing any progress that could have been made. President Farmaajo must appoint somebody he trusts, that shares the same vision, and that will stick with him through his administration.
A second key area will be reconciliation. The brutal civil war that broke out in 1991 led the country to break up into several clan-based territories. Many Somalis never leave their regions.
The new president will need to set in motion a process of national reconciliation. Political grievances must be readdressed; the discriminatory parts of the constitution such as the 4.5 clan-based power sharing formula should be removed; and property should be returned to its rightful owners. By re-cultivating real trust between clans, Farmaajo can ensure a lasting peace.
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Thirdly, the new president will have to tackle the insecurity that has long wracked the country. Even after some promising gains, Mogadishu has seen an increase in al-Shabaab attacks, to the extent that the venue of yesterday's election had to be moved to the heavily fortified Aden Adde Airport.
Finally, Farmaajo will have to take great care in ensuring his rule is inclusive. The past two administrations were frequently criticised for concentrating power in the hands of the few. Under the new president, Somalis all over the country should be able to claim the government as their own and be proud of it.
As prime minister in 2010, Farmaajo openly expressed a disapproval of the 4.5 power-sharing formula that discriminates against smaller clans. At the time his capacity was limited, but now he has the power to walk the walk and ensure that his government is one that represents all Somalis.
Author: Sakariye Cismaan