Election unites Somalis
By Hassan Isilow
JOHANNESBURG- It is a Monday morning in Mayfair, which is also known as little Mogadishu among Johannesburg’s residents. A group of men have gathered inside a restaurant watching the historic live broadcast of the Somali presidential elections which commenced Monday (September 10). Mohammed Ali is one of the men watching the news on television. “I am closely following this election because I hope it will lead Somalia into a path of reconciliation, unity and prosperity,” an optimistic Ali tells me. He is not the only one who believes that this election might usher in a new era of peace, after two decades of instability in his homeland.
Cape Town based Somali businessman Abdullahi Hassan is also hopeful of change on the political landscape of Somalia. “I took a break from my usual business routine today, so that I could follow the live coverage of the Somali presidential elections,” he related, adding that he believes the out come of the vote will bring to an end the suffering of the Somali people who have lived as refugees across the globe for many years.
Hassan said many Somalis in Belleville had – like him – taken a brief break from their normal routines in order to follow the televised coverage of the Somali presidential elections. Asked what would happen if the incumbent losses the election, he said: “I don’t think the incumbent or any other candidate will create chaos after losing the vote.” He believes they will act maturely by respecting the outcome of the process. Meanwhile, Somali blogger Nasrallah California said regardless of who wins the election, she hope this will be the change Somalia needs in order to become a united country again.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a 56-year-old university lecturer was chosen on Monday by lawmakers as Somalia’s new president. “We don’t know much about him at all,” a western diplomat told AFP as voting in the presidential poll drew to a close. “He comes from Somali civil society and he has links to Al Islah, the equivalent of the Muslim brotherhood. It’s only in the past two days that we’ve been hearing a lot about him,” the diplomat said.
Mohamud is well known in the academic and NGO circles. He founded the Somali Institute of Management and Administrative Development (SIMAD). He is said to be a respected and influential figure who specializes in education. In the streets of Mogadishu news of his election was met with residents firing into the air to express their joy. SIMAD was set up to ensure that war-ravaged Somalia got its fair share of managers and administrators.
Born in 1955 in Jalalaqsi in the central Hiran region, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud hails from the powerful Hawiye clan just like the outgoing president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed whom he defeated in the poll.
According to the website of the political party he set up last year, the new president has two decades of experience behind him, both in education and in conflict resolution.
He obtained his bachelors degree from Somalia’s national university before the civil war started in 1991 and then moved to Bhopal University in India, for a masters before returning to Somalia to work for UNICEF.
In 2009 he co-authored a report for the UN Development Program in which he underlined the importance of the huge but politically fragmented Somali Diaspora, arguing that it should play a more “systematic” role in peace building in Somalia. Unlike many Somali political figures, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is not part of the Diaspora. The new president has never served as a minister, but was recently appointed as Member of Parliament. In his party’s manifesto he said he wanted to “build a society free from the demons of clan politics, from fear and from internal conflicts.”
Laura Hammond, a British academic who worked with SIMAD, said Hassan Sheikh Mohamud had managed to hold talks with the extremist Shebab, who, even after they chased other groups out of the areas they control, allowed SIMAD to remain. “I think he will be a moderate,” Hammond said on Monday evening, just before the official announcement of his election.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s party describes him as the architect of Somali civil society. Others say it is too difficult to get an accurate idea of the new president and predict his political program or form an idea of how capable he is of getting Somalia back on track. “There are quite a lot of unknowns, starting with who is this new president who appeared from nowhere a few days ago and who has no political experience,” a western diplomat told AFP. This report was first published on The Voice of the Cape .Additional reporting from AFP.