By Florence Gichoya
Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed was elected the 9th president of the Federal Republic of Somalia. World leaders hailed the peaceful transfer of power from former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. The new president also goes by his nickname ‘Farmajo’, a word referring to ‘cheese’, his childhood delicacy.
Farmajo emerged winner in the historic elections held on February 8th 2017. Somalia had not held elections since 1985. The members of parliament voted from a pool of 21 presidential candidates, in a poll that was riddled with voter bribery allegations. After he was declared winner, he stated his vision for Somalia, “this is the beginning of unity for the Somali nation, the beginning of the fight against al shabab and corruption,” he said.
But during his inauguration, Farmajo told the Somali people to be hopeful, but also to be aware that it may take many years to fix Somalia. “Multiple challenges are ahead of our government. Therefore, I am telling people that because of the limited resources we have, our achievements will be limited,” he said
President Uhuru Kenyatta attended the inauguration event in solidarity with a neighbor emerging from decades of instability. He supported the Somali people in the ongoing efforts to rebuild the country. “The successful elections and peaceful transfer of power are a clear demonstration of the desire and ability of the people of Somalia to strengthen governance structure and build sustainable peace,” President Kenyatta said. Other regional leaders who graced the occasion were Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, and Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh.
An American citizen, Farmajo has lived and worked in the U.S since 1985. His previous job was in the New York Department of Transportation, and he was an active member of the Republican Party. This unique arrangement, of foreign passport holders vying for political seats in Somalia is acceptable. According to Politico magazine, diaspora Somalis constitute a third of Somalia’s government.
Interestingly, out of the 21 presidential candidates, nine had dual citizenship of Somalia and America. Four candidates were British Somalis and three were Canadian Somalis. Former presidents Sheikh Shariff Sheikh Ahmed and Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud have dual citizenship of Kenya and Somalia.
Farmajo served as Somalia’s Prime Minister between 2010 and 2011. In one year he won the hearts of Somalis for his zero tolerance on corruption. He downsized the cabinet to improve efficiency, and ensured the salaries of the army and police officers were paid promptly.
Farmajo’s strategy on Alshabab
Somalia has seen a fair share of conflict since former president Mohamed Siad Barre was deposed in 1991. For 25 years, factions of warlords and Al shabab terrorists have controlled some territories, making the country ungovernable.
During his inauguration speech, President Farmajo offered an olive branch to the Al Shabab, and appealed to the belligerent group to join him in transforming the country.
President Kenyatta echoed that both Kenya and Somalia are threatened by many “foreign terrorists actors and agents” and “transnational and cross border crimes.”
Kenya and Somalia have suffered the blunt of Al shabab. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was set up for the purpose of stabilizing Somalia. KDF moved to Somalia in 2011 after increased cases of kidnappings of tourists and foreign aid workers by al shabab in the country. Kenya has about 3,600 troops in Somalia.
War and conflict leads to displacement of human population. Kenya has carried the burden of hosting Somali refugees for 25 years, and intends to shut down the Dadaab refugee camp, which hosts more than 200,000 Somali refugees. Kenyan government maintains that the camp is infiltrated by al shabab terrorists, and poses a threat to national security. “We will continue to provide a safe haven for refugees, but that generosity will be balanced, against the imperative of keeping Kenya safe,” President Kenyatta said.
Intelligence reports revealed that the Westgate Mall attack in September 2013 was hatched in the Dadaab camp. Two years later, the al shabab attacked Garissa University College killing 148 people.
Deputy President William Ruto accentuated Kenya’s position at the United Nations World Humanitarian Summit in 2015, “Kenya has been faithful to her international obligations of humanitarian assistance, but no country can shoulder humanitarian responsibilities, at the expense of the security of her people, and the refugees themselves,” he said.
Farmajo will certainly engage Kenya and Ethiopia in the repatriation process of refugees. There is also the issue of Puntland that refuses to go away. Puntland, is an area in Northeastern Somalia that claimed autonomy in 1998.
Somalia has also suffered economic hardships for decades. According to the World Bank, Somalia is the fifth poorest country in the world. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates Somalia’s economic growth rate will be at 2.5 percent, down from 3.7 percent growth rate experienced last year.
The country lacks a monetary policy and since 1991, Somalia has never printed its national currency, Somalia Shilling. This year, the Somalia Central Bank Governor announced plans to print its own currency, a project that will cost 60 million dollars. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) country director in Somalia, Samba Thiam said that, “98 percent of the currency circulating in the country is fake.”
Somalia on the rise
Somalia is a country of many contrasts. It has a heritage of a people who speak one language, but are divided along clans. The clans wield a lot of power in the governance of the country.
Since 1991, millions of Somalis have immigrated and settled in different countries around the world. The Somali diaspora has excelled in the business, health, sports, and academia and governance sectors.
Despite the security challenges, Somalia is on the rise of making a mark in the region. Last year Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched the largest Turkish diplomatic mission in Mogadishu. Schools, hospitals and markets have re-opened and Somali Diasporas are steadily returning to their homeland.
The country has the longest coastline in Africa and has potential of becoming a leading tourist destination. Farmajo has a big task ahead. To rebuild and stabilize a fragile state, and improve Somalia’s standing in the community of nations.