A Somali-American politician has won the country’s highest office after 55-year old Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed beat the incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mohamud by 184 votes to 97 to become the second African immigrant within a year to return home and be voted head of state following Gambia’s Adama Barrow who returned home from Britain to be elected in December last year as the country’s new leader.
Celebrations erupted on the streets of Mogadishu with crowds chanting songs and firing automatic weapons into the night sky. The election of Mr Mohamed, a former prime minister with dual US-Somali nationality and with a reputation for independence and competence, has raised the hopes of millions of people in the poor and violent east African state. “I am really happy. I prayed hard. Now we have a good president. I hope he will take care of our country,” said Khadra Mohamud Ahmed, 42, from Mogadishu.
Critics said the election, the most extensive and expensive democratic exercise in Somalia for decades, has entrenched divides between the country’s many traditional clans and encouraged graft. But others described it as a “way station” to political stability and full democracy. Michael Keating, the UN special representative for Somalia, described the poll as a “political process with electoral features”, and “pretty brave to do”. “There are a lot of problems [in Somalia] of course, but it is not a place falling apart, it is a place coming together,” he told the Guardian.
The new president will have to deal with multiple challenges that include, among others, the threat posed by extremist groups in Somalia, a looming famine, weak institutions, feuding factions and rampant unemployment in a country where more than 70 per cent of the population is under the age of 30. Somalia was also among seven Muslim-majority states named in Donald Trump’s contentious executive order suspending immigration to the US last week. If the Trump travel ban is upheld by the US Appeals Court, it would be interesting to see how the Trump administration deals with Somalis trying to enter the country given the fact the United States was among countries that heavily funded this Somali election.