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New Somali president Farmajo faces stiff challenges

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Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo was elected president of Somalia on February 8, 2017. Reuters/Feisal Omar

Many Somalis have expressed joy after the surprise election of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as the country’s next president on Wednesday. The politician, widely known as "Farmajo", has promised change for Somalia. But will he actually be able to deliver?


Mohammed Shire, who left Somalia as a child, was glued to the TV on Wednesday night in his London home, watching coverage of the Somali election.

“I watched it from beginning to end, honestly,” he said, sheepishly.

Shire thought incumbent president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was a shoo-in. So he was surprised and overjoyed when Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed-- nicknamed Farmajo after the Italian for cheese, because of his fondness for the food -- won.

“I can’t even describe what it felt like to slowly to get the message that Farmajo was actually going to be elected as Somalia’s president,” he said. “ I was in such a euphoric mood. I called everyone I could think of.”

Shire feels as if Farmajo could help unite Somalia, which is fractured across ethnic and clan lines by years of conflict. He would like to see a united Somali people and is one of the founders of Somali Faces, a project which shares the stories of Somalis from  different backgrounds.

“After the win, people started posting live videos on Facebook from cities all across Somalia showing celebrations,” he said. “People were chanting his name and singing songs all throughout the night. This was taking place in cities where different, diverse clans live.”

Shire had never seen anything like it.

“I have never before seen people uniting on a common team,” he said. “But people see Farmajo as a national leader instead of a clan leader.”

New era promised

In a speech after the win, Farmajo promised a new era for Somalia: “This is the beginning of the era of unity, the democracy of Somalia and the beginning of the fight against corruption,” he declared.

But Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, a regional security analyst, is sceptical.

“It is wonderful to have such a big heart and want to help but there is so, so much that needs to be done,” Halakhe said. “And, to be honest with you, none of the things that are on the table are easy.”

He wonders if Farmajo is really up to the challenges of running Somalia, which is facing everything from rampant corruption to an ongoing insurgency led by the al-Qaeda-linked organisation Al Shebab, to an imminent drought.

The burden of expectation is heavy on Farmajo’s shoulders and, with a list like that, it will be hard to know where to begin.

Halakhe says that, if the new president is to succeed, he has to be really judicious about which of the many issues he is going to tackle.

“If I were him, I would just pick a few things and then deliver on those,” he said. “I think that he needs to manage the expectation more than anything else. But none of the challenges facing him have an easy solution.”

Shire, the man who was celebrating Farmajo's victory in London, does recognise that Farmajo faces steep challenges. Still, he says that he has hope for Somalia, for the first time in a long time.