SOMALIA’S new president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was elected after a marathon vote by lawmakers on Sunday, is a former academic and peace activist whose first administration was dogged by claims of corruption and infighting.
Born in 1955, Mohamud was a fierce critic of the incumbent Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmajo, since the latter won the 2017 presidential vote, beating the ex-university professor’s bid for re-election.
When Farmajo sought to extend his rule by decree after his term ended without a fresh vote, Mohamud played a key role in the violent protests that rocked the capital Mogadishu and forced the president to seek consensus on the way forward.
The first Somali president to win a second term, Mohamud has promised to transform Somalia into ‘a peaceful country that is at peace with the world.’
He will inherit several challenges from his predecessor, including a devastating drought and a long-running fight with Al-Shabaab insurgents, who tried to assassinate him during his first term.
He will also need to repair the damage caused by months of political chaos and infighting, both at the executive level and between the central government and state authorities.
A member of the powerful Hawiye clan, Mohamud entered politics in 2011 when he founded the Union for Peace and Development Party.
Few expected the bookish activist to become president and his 2012 election victory raised hopes that the fragile Horn of Africa nation was on the path to stability.
His government was the first to be given global recognition and billions in foreign aid since the collapse of Siad Barre’s authoritarian regime in 1991.
But his term was marked by corruption scandals and political turmoil.
Two of the three prime ministers he appointed were forced out because of disagreements with him, while two central bank governors quit their jobs as graft allegations swirled around his administration, claims he dismissed.
By the time his term came to an end, his administration was widely seen as more corrupt than any other that had come before, prone to wrangling over jobs, cash and power.
Born in Jalalaqsi in the central Hiran region, Mohamud studied at Somalia’s national university before civil war broke out in 1991 and then at Bhopal University in India.
He served stints with the UN children’s agency UNICEF before co-founding the Somali Institute of Management and Administrative Development (SIMAD) in 1999.
Prior to joining politics, he spent two decades working in education and in conflict resolution.
Following his success in marshalling the support of other anti-Farmajo presidential candidates, he will now need to focus on reuniting the country, observers say.
‘The country is very polarised at the moment,’ Samira Gaid, executive director of the Mogadishu-based Hiraal Institute think-tank, told AFP ahead of Sunday’s poll.
‘This electoral process that has been so protracted offers a reset button.’