Who is Somalia’s new leader?

Hassan Sheikh Mohammed’s term will last four years

The new president of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, is no stranger to the job. He served as Somalia’s eighth president from 2012 to 2017 and lost the 2017 election to outgoing President Mohammad Abdullahi “Famajo”.

He made history on Sunday as he entered the third round of voting in the troubled Horn of Africa nation’s second-ever election as president in the country’s most contested election.

The former peace activist has an educational background and his campaign has focused on ensuring Somalis are united and at peace with the rest of the world — something he mentioned immediately after taking the oath of office on Monday morning.

“I assure you that we will be working closely with regional countries and our international partners,” he said.

His tone sounded conciliatory, and he promised the people of Somalia that he would serve all.

In the end, he won a huge majority of 214 votes against Mr. Farmagio of 110 in the third ballot, avenging his defeat in 2017.

Mr Mohamud has spent most of the past two years in Mogadishu, campaigning for elections to be held on time and as promised.

He is one of a coalition of opposition candidates opposed to a two-year extension by former President Farmayo.

Hassan Sheikh Mohammed sits next to former President Mohammad Abdullahi Famaho

Hassan Sheikh Mohammed (left) took revenge on former President Mohammad Abdullahi Famayo (right) who defeated him in 2017

He was attacked in February 2021 after security forces raided his hotel in Mogadishu to stop a protest planned by opposition candidates in the capital.

He was one of the very few leaders to remain in Somalia throughout the 30-year civil war.

The incoming president inherited a country plagued by multiple challenges, including a severe drought that the United Nations has warned could escalate into famine if not addressed. More than 3.5 million people are in need of emergency food assistance and are at risk of starvation.

He also has to deal with the rising cost of living and rampant inflation caused by the war in Ukraine.

Another challenge he faces is the widening rift between the federal government and regional states, which remained a huge concern during his previous presidency. He’s perfectly capable of doing that, creating some of these states in his first term.

Rampant corruption goes unaddressed

Analysts say he must also mend ties with countries such as Kenya, Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Outgoing government cuts diplomatic ties with Kenya on separate occasions And there were disputes over their maritime borders.

In 2012, he led the Somali government to establish full diplomatic relations following previous transitional governments and restore relations with Western and African countries.

But he has also faced much criticism for failing to address rampant corruption in the government.

Born in central Hiran province in 1955, he grew up in a middle-class community in Mogadishu and graduated from Somali National University in 1981 with a degree in technical engineering.

Quiet, humble, his contemporaries say, he became a teacher before pursuing a graduate degree at Bhopal University in India.

He joined the Ministry of Education upon his return to oversee a UN-funded teacher training programme.

moderate islamist

When the central government collapsed in 1991, he joined UNICEF as an education officer and traveled around southern and central Somalia, allowing him to see “the magnitude of the collapse of the education sector”.

Three years later, he established one of the first primary schools in Mogadishu since the start of the war.

He has ties to al-Islah, the Somali branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was crucial in rebuilding the education system after clan conflict.

It has established a number of schools with a Muslim curriculum similar to those in Sudan and Egypt, but strongly opposes al-Shabaab, the jihadist group affiliated with al Qaeda.

Described as a moderate Islamist in an almost entirely Muslim country, Mohamud is also said to be close to the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), a group of local Islamic courts originally set up by business people to Build some form of lawless state order after years of civil war.

In 2006, before Ethiopia invaded and overthrew them, UIC brought relative peace to the country – spooked by al-Shabaab’s growing influence on the court.

His followers say he supports any activity aimed at restoring peace and stability.

In the 1990s, Mr. Mohamud was active in civil society groups, and people close to him said he was known for resolving clan disputes.

His first real success in this regard was his involvement in the 1997 negotiations that oversaw the dismantling of the infamous “Green Line” that divided Mogadishu into the control of rival clan warlords of the two parts.

Described by some as “the cancer of Mogadishu” in the early 1990s, the sector made life difficult for city dwellers and politicians alike.

In 2001, he joined the Centre for Research and Dialogue as a researcher in post-conflict reconstruction — an agency sometimes criticized for being too close to the West — and as an adviser to several UN agencies and transitional governments.

No doubt his research will be very useful as he tries to help Somalia emerge from three decades of ongoing war.

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