Following an historic election on September 10, 2012, the current Somali government took ownership of one of the arguably most difficult set of circumstances a newly elected government could inherit. After two decades of civil war, the country was left with virtually no institutions, leaving the newly elected government with the task of state building from scratch. The challenges facing the new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, were colossal and the expectations of the Somali people were high. The unique challenges Mohamud faced, along with the euphoria and optimism surrounding his election, may have set expectations that were impossible to attain. Although progress has been made in the past year throughout various sectors, overall there is a sense of disillusionment amongst the Somali people with regard to the performance of their respective government thus far.
The situation in Somalia today is significantly better than it was over a year ago. The capital city, Mogadishu, which had for years been the bitter battleground of the Somali civil war has sprung back to life. The former ghost town is now experiencing a renaissance; new restaurants and businesses are constantly being opened and the city’s beautiful Lido beach on the Indian Ocean coastline has been reopened to residents. Cultural events being held that were unthinkable years ago, such as TedxMogadishu, a spin-off from the TED talks held in California, and Live From Mogadishu, a music festival can be seen as symbols of recovery. Another important sign of recovery is the growing number of returnees from the worldwide Somali diaspora. Many of those who fled their homeland during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s have decided that it’s finally safe enough to not only travel to Somalia, but to move back there as well.
Much of this rebirth is due to the fragile stability which has been brought back to the country through the African Union’s Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The regional peacekeeping force made up mainly of fellow East African countries Uganda, Kenya, and Burundi, was credited for driving the violent extremist group al Shabaab out of the capital city. As a result of this declared victory, during the summer of 2011, the political process to establish a permanent government began taking place. Prior to this, Somalia did have a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that had been functioning since 2004. The road to permanent governance was long and the progress was incremental. The federal government of Somalia was established at the end of August 2012, once the TFG’s interim mandate came to an end. This election was unique since it was a Somali owned process and one that took place directly in the country. The process was a merger of democratic principles and a return to traditional structures. A parliament consisting of 275 MPs chosen by traditional clan elders voted to elect a new President. The views of clan elders are highly respected in the Somali culture, however guidelines were put in place to ensure that the nominees for MPs were not only competent but also to ensure that they had no ties to warlords or crimes committed during the civil war. In the end, the academic and political activist, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected. This election marked a turning point in the collective Somali consciousness. Although there was an understanding that the road ahead would be tough, there was an overwhelming desire to leave the turbulent times behind and for the first time, it seemed like a genuine possibility.
This turning point served as the perfect opportunity to unite all Somalis, however President Mohamud has currently failed to effectively seize that opportunity. Navigating the path in post-conflict situations is difficult and each case requires its own appropriate solutions. However the importance of healing and reconciliation efforts in any post-conflict case cannot be undermined. To date, President Mohamud has not made any extensive attempts in this regard. Such an attempt would be beneficial to a society that is deeply divided. One of the biggest obstacles for Mohamud right now is handling the tense regional divisions in the country. In the absence of an overarching federal government, Somalia broke down into several autonomous regions. Although the central government is in control of Mogadishu, it does not hold this same authority in other regions, like Puntland and Jubaland. The region that is posing the biggest impediment to the unification process is Somaliland, the self-declared sovereign state in the northwestern part of the country. Although Mohamud did a satisfactory job of handling the crisis in Jubaland this year (Jubaland refused to recognize the central government, however, eventually the two parties came to a rapprochement), he still has the task of bringing the country together and building a real federal state. As Matt Bryden, Director at Sahan Research, explains “the challenge for the government is to build partnerships with the defacto authorities and forces across the country and to unify them beneath a single governmental framework.”
Another major obstacle facing Mohamud is establishing real security. As mentioned previously, the security situation has greatly improved, though it is far from ideal. Citizens are constantly wary of attacks and although the situation is more stable, it is a fragile stability. Al Shabaab was defeated militarily by AMISOM but they still continue to pose a threat and there have been several setbacks to peace in the past months. In April, al Shabaab bombed the National Theatre and this past month they carried out twin bombings which claimed the lives of over 18 people. The President himself has been targeted, escaping his second assassination attempt a few weeks ago. The recent attack at Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya which was carried out in response to Kenya’s involvement in AMISOM, has been explained by certain political analysts as a weakening of al Shabaab since they are resorting to desperate attempts. Either way, one thing is clear; driving al Shabaab out of Mogadisu was instrumental, but until they are entirely eradicated they will continue to pose a threat to the current rebuilding process in Somalia as well as pose a regional threat in East Africa.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 26 demonstrates his understanding of the work that needs to be done. The mere fact that a Somali president addressed the UN is historic in itself and Mohamud should be commended on Somalia’s successful re-entry into the international community. His presentation of his New Deal, a comprehensive framework to address Somalia’s most pressing concerns including healthcare and education, is admirable. It is not only extremely important but critical to the recovery process that he and his government deliver on their promises. The expectations he faced when starting the first year of his four year term were high, it can be argued that they were almost impossible. Mohamud had a unique opportunity to unite the country; there was widespread optimism and many Somalis across clan lines wanted to see him succeed for the sake of their country. Only time will tell if he fumbled that opportunity.