MOGADISHU, SOMALIA — Somalia’s new president is starting his four-year term facing familiar top issues such as the country’s political divide and rising attacks by al-Qaida-linked insurgent group al-Shabab.
As he settles into office, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud faces a politically divided nation, high public expectations and the specter of al-Shabab, which has remained a potent threat since it emerged in 2007.
Fawzia Yusuf, a former deputy prime minister who ran for president in the just concluded elections, said the new president has the uphill task of constituting a competent government given the many competing interests.
“Since our system is currently based on tribal 4.5, people are expecting him to choose people from different tribes,” she said. “So, one of the challenges is putting together a very strong Cabinet, which are technocrats which are not based on tribal but on meritocracy.”
The distribution of power in Somalia is on a clan-based system locally known as the 4.5 system, where majority clans are allocated majority seats in parliament while the smaller clans, grouped together, get the remainder.
In the coming days, the president is expected to name a new prime minister who will need parliamentary approval before proceeding to name a Cabinet.
Besides tackling the political question, Mohamud must contend with the security threats posed by militant group al-Shabab.
According to Abdurahman Sheikh Azhari, the director of the Mogadishu-based Center for Analysis and Strategic Studies, the new president, like his predecessor, doesn’t have much leeway in dealing with al-Shabab.
“Of course, al-Shabab’s fighting, and attacks will continue as long as they are able or capable of carrying out attacks,” he said. Azhari added he thinks the opportunities for the president are slim because al-Shabab is a terrorist organization, an international organization, and a regional organization, and this means they will not surrender easily.
Azhari argued that despite the lack of incentive from al-Shabab to negotiate due to its successful attacks in recent months, dialogue is still a possible option.
“I think the government, with the help of international and regional partners, can negotiate indirectly with sections of the al-Shabab leadership who may want to surrender or oppose the organization,” he said.
Yusuf, too, shares a similar view that the new president may need to consider taking a different approach by opening lines of communication with the militant group.
“Another challenge, as I said, is the security,” he said. “The security is a major problem. Al-Shabab is a major problem, and their demand is to get rid of the foreign forces, in other words, the ATMIS or troops coming from the contributing countries. So, dealing with them is not an easy matter. Never in the world has a rebellion or terrorist groups won, but they still weaken any administration. So, I think the best thing he can do is to start negotiating with them and deal with the hard-core groups.”
By ATMIS, Yusuf was referring to the U.N.-authorized African Union Transition Mission in Somalia. Its mandate includes reducing the threat posed by al-Shabab and conducting a phased handover of security responsibilities to Somalia. ATMIS is expected to end its mission in 2024.
Having had the backing of most opposition candidates during the May 15 vote, Mohamud now has to avoid a fallout while ensuring he puts in place a competent team to deliver his election promises.
Analysts say the new leader could take advantage of the planned return of U.S. forces to the country to bolster the war against al-Shabab and strengthen the national army. For now, the country is waiting to see who Mohamud will pick as prime minister.
Harun Maruf and Hussein Hassan Dhaqane contributed to this report.