Abdullahi Farmajo elected Somalia's new President

Wednesday February 8 2017

Somalia's new president Mohammed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo. He was elected in a battle that saw 23 candidates take part in an election that had been delayed four times. PHOTO | FILE

Somalia's new president Mohammed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo. He was elected on February 8, 2017 in a battle that saw 23 candidates take part in an election that had been delayed four times. PHOTO | FILE 

By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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Somalia on Wednesday elected Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo as new President following a battle that saw 23 candidates take part in an election that had been delayed four times.

Farmajo beat his closest challenger and incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in the second round of voting. And although he did not gain the required two thirds of the 327 cast, Mr Mohamud accepted defeat making third round irrelevant.

The polls conducted at the main airport in Mogadishu heavily guarded by the African Union Mission on Somalia Forces, had seen former Presidents, senior politicians and former envoys, join the race in which the 328 MPs of the Federal Parliament were to elect the new leader.

And Farmajo, 55, is a former diplomat who served in the Somali Embassy in Washington before successfully applying for asylum when the government of Siad Barre collapsed in 1991.

In a country that has changed presidents 12 times since 1960, including three acting presidents, two coups and one assassination, Farmajo’s election extends Somalia’s long-held tradition of never re-electing an incumbent.

Educated at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Farmajo who also holds US citizenship, obtained his Masters degree in Political Science and International Relations from the same university, after studying history t undergraduate.

As it is, Somali law does not bar dual nationals from contesting for presidency. One just needs to be 40 years or older, of sound mind, Somali citizen and Muslim by religion to qualify.

APPOINTED PRIME MINISTER

Farmajo is not new to Somali politics. In October 2010, he was appointed Prime Minister under the then government of Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a Sufi Islamic Scholar who was defeated in 2012 by Mohamud. He had incidentally replaced Abdirashid Ali Sharmake, a contender he was facing in this election.

In June 2011, he resigned following a pressured deal in Kampala to extend the mandate of the transitional federal government.

Here, he had been among the three frontrunners; against Mohamud and current Prime Minister Adbirashid Ali Sharmarke.

After the first round of voting, it became clear that this was a three-horse race. Mohamud got 88 votes against Famrajo’s 72.

Sheikh Sharif Ahmed scored 49 votes while Sharmake got 37. This result meant that the 19 other candidates had to drop off as election laws require only the top four contenders to go into second round, if no one gets the requisite two thirds majority.

The second round, however saw Sharmake pull out of the race, leaving three candidates to battle it out. After this round, Farmajo scored 184 votes, beating Mohamud by 80 votes. Ahmed had fallen off the race, getting just under 50.

They were to head into third round, just him and Mohamud. But the incumbent sensing a scorpion fight quickly conceded defeat, saying he will support the winner in the course to rebuild the country from the ravages of war.

CHANGED OFFICIAL NAMES

Somalia has changed official names three times from Somali Republic in 1960, Somali democratic republic in 1969, to Federal republic of Somalia since 2012. The latter is the concerted effort of the international community to bring the Horn of Africa country back to its feet, more than two decades after a stable government fell.

Farmajo’s immediate duty will be to improve the country’s security, which has long been under threat from militants, Al-Shabaab.

Ahead of these elections, there were uncertainties as the terrorists threatened to spoil the day. The Amisom had to issue a statement declaring “unwavering support” for Somalia and readiness to defend the event.

“Amisom is working closely with the Somali National Security Forces to ensure the security of the election,” a statement from the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) said.

“In addition to ensuring security, AU joins the international community as election observers, reiterating unwavering support for Somalia.”

Amisom is a 22,000-strong force that has been in Somalia since 2007 to stabilise the country and beat down al-Shabaab. Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Burundi have each sent their troops there.

That assurance is probably important given the massive threat Somali militants, Al-Shabaab pose. On Tuesday evening, the Shabaabs had attempted to attack an Amisom base at Albao, some 20km north-west of the capital Mogadishu.

According to Amisom, the attackers were “repulsed” resulting in eight casualties. But that was not the only attempt at spoiling the plans for elections.

Amisom said it had killed four militants for attempting to plant an improvised explosive device on a road near Mogadishu.

As part of efforts to rebuild the country from years of war, Somalia adopted a federal system of government with states led by regional presidents but which are autonomous to the government in the Capital, Mogadishu. Still, certain regions like Puntland and Somaliland are yet to completely iron out their differences with Mogadishu, especially after the latter sought international recognition for sovereignty.

Sixteen of these candidates hold foreign passports, according to Wakiil (www.wakiil.org), an online portal that aggregates information on the Somali elections.

They include incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and the man he replaced in 2012, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. They also included Mohammed Nur Americo, a former Somali Ambassador to Kenya until 2016.

The list also includes nine American passport holders, four Britons and three Canadians. These spread of foreign nationality also reflects where the Somali diaspora resides. Following the fall of despot Siad Barre in 1991, many Somalis fled to Kenya, Ethiopia, US, Britain, Australia Canada and the Scandinavian countries.

ISLAMIC RELIGIOUS SCHOLAR

The list also includes nine American passport holders, four Britons and three Canadians. These spread of foreign nationality also reflects where the Somali diaspora resides. Following the fall of despot Siad Barre in 1991, many Somalis fled to Kenya, Ethiopia, US, Britain, Australia Canada and the Scandinavian countries.

In this election, the frontrunners are the incumbent Mr Mohamud, a hitherto businessman based in Nairobi, Mr Ahmed who was once a Sufi Islamic religious scholar before being president in 2009 and current Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke who once served as Somalia’s envoy to the US.

There are other candidates, too, such as Mr Abdirahim Abdishakur Warsame, the former Planning Minister who signed the controversial MoU with Kenya in 2009 on how to resolve the maritime dispute between the two countries.

Others are American national Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, a former Prime Minister under Mr Mohamud, former Finance Minister and Speaker of Parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aadan who served as Ahmed’s Premier, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmajo’ (another former Prime Minister and diplomat who also holds American citizenship), military engineer Lt-Col Abdirahman Abdullahi Baadiyow who has also been a vocal activist and holds both Somali and Canadian nationalities; Mr Yusuf Garaad Omar, a British-Somali multilingual journalist who was once director of the BBC Somali Service.

The list goes on, including Ali Mohamed Gedi, who served as Prime Minister under the inaugural Somalia Transitional Federal government of the late Abdullahi Yusuf between 2004 and 2007, Ahmed Ismail Smatar, a dual Somali-American national and academic who is the current leader of the Hiil Qaran party.