Long-troubled Somalia selects a new president in surprising parliamentary vote


McClatchy Newspapers

A trained mechanical engineer and academic who prided himself on living in the world’s most dangerous city for 22 years without the luxury of a security detail has been selected as the new president of Somalia, perhaps the world’s most notoriously troubled nation.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud won the final round of balloting late Monday evening 190 to 79, supplanting the incumbent, President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. Mohamud’s bid to unseat the unpopular Ahmed gained steam as other opposition candidates stepped aside and and backed his bid.

The run up to the vote in Parliament was burdened with accusations of vote buying, with the price for a single vote reported to be ranging well into the five figure sums. But Mohamud’s overwhelming victory suggested that diplomatic hopes that secret balloting would soften the effectiveness of fraud may have been justified; Ahmed was seen as the candidate with the most resources for such payoffs.

In Somali fashion, celebratory gunfire erupted in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, after the results were announced. Mohamud was immediately sworn in.

"I ask the whole Somali community to support my government as we open a new chapter for Somalis and the country to restore peace and stability," he said in his brief victory speech. He vowed to work closely with Ahmed, who congratulated his successor in a concession speech.

Mohamud’s candidacy was favored by much of Somalia’s educated elite, but many thought it unlikely that the pragmatic, intellectual outsider could beat Ahmed, whose notoriously corrupt Western-backed government was in charge of organizing the vote.

Even when he launched his campaign under the umbrella of the Peace and Development Party in June, Mohamud knew the system was stacked against him.

"The irony is the international community says you are corrupt and not trustworthy," Mohamud said about Ahmed’s government during an interview with McClatchy in June. "But then (the international community) says you guys are good enough to manage the process."

Mohamud’s election closes an extremely rocky, and at-times confusing, sprint to end Somalia’s political transition period under heavy global pressure for progress following the government’s one-year extension in 2011. A new constitution was written, and then came time for the elections.

Due to the widespread lawlessness across much of the country, popular elections were shelved for the more manageable parliamentary poll. Clan elders were selected through a controversial vetting process. Those elders then voted for members of Parliament, who in turn picked the president.

Throughout the process, accusations of vote buying billowed.

Yet, Mohamud said he still thought that the election was worth contesting.

"I don’t believe all people in the process are corrupt," he said during the interview.

Abdirashid Hashi, of the International Crisis Group, an international organization that studies conflicts, said he was not surprised that Mohamud won.

"He was working on his election bid for almost a year," said Hashi. "He did his homework and presented himself as an alternative to the outgoing president, whom many Somalis felt had to go."

Mohamud candidacy was helped by Somalia’s complex clan-based politics. He and Ahmed are from the same subclan. That allows Somalia to change its leaders without upending the basic underlying clan dynamics in power.

Mohamud has moved about Mogadishu without security for 22 years and has been critical of the international approach to Somalia that he said has produced an inefficient humanitarian aid system. In his interview with McClatchy, he told of how in 2010 he flew to Nairobi to sign a consultancy contract with the United Nations, only to be informed that due to security concerns he could not return back to Mogadishu until the contract ended weeks later.

"It is my home," he said he responded.

He expressed optimism. "Things are changing now. Warlordism is not there like before. But now, money is there, corruption is there," Mohamud said.

The vote on Monday may have been limited to a body of several hundred Somalis, but the proceedings were streamed live online, allowing Somalis flung across the world by years of war to tune in and watch.

McClatchy special correspondents Abdi Ibrahim in Mogadishu and Mohammed Yusuf in Nairobi contributed to this report.

Boswell is a McClatchy special correspondent. His reporting is underwritten in part by a grant from Humanity United, a California-based foundation that focuses on human rights issues.

Email: aboswell@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @alanboswell

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

FILE - In this Tuesday, July 22, 2014, file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint news conference with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in Tel Aviv, Israel, regarding the Israel-Hamas war. The third Gaza war is playing out very much like the first one some five years ago: We are now at the stage where the harrowing civilian toll in Gaza is at the center of the discourse, eclipsing the rocket attacks by Hamas militants which are the reason for the Israeli assault.

    AP ANALYSIS: Old story, new twists in Gaza war

    The third Gaza war is playing out much like the first one more than five years ago: The harrowing civilian toll in Gaza is now at the center of the discourse, eclipsing the rocket attacks by Hamas militants that were the stated reason for the Israeli assault.

  • Nigeria confirms first Ebola death

    Nigerian officials say a Liberian man died of Ebola in a Lagos hospital Friday after arriving in the country on Tuesday. It is the first case of Ebola to be confirmed in Nigeria since the current outbreak began in West Africa earlier this year.

  • Russia: McDonald's food has 'too many calories'

    Russia's consumer protection agency has filed a suit against McDonald's for allegedly selling food that does not meet legal standards.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category