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Somali Presidential Campaign About Politics, Not Public

  • Gabe Joselow

New parliamentarians are sworn-in during an inauguration ceremony for members of Somalia's first parliament in 20 years in Mogadishu, August 20, 2012.

New parliamentarians are sworn-in during an inauguration ceremony for members of Somalia's first parliament in 20 years in Mogadishu, August 20, 2012.

MOGADISHU — After seating a new parliament, Somali political leaders are turning their focus on the next challenge: the election of a president. The campaign season is in full swing, complete with allegations of vote buying and corruption.

A cafe across from Somalia's National Theater in Mogadishu has become a gathering place for Somali intellectuals, students and politicians since security has improved in the capital.

The country's political transition and the election of a new president is the topic of conversation for many sitting in the shade and sipping coffee brewed in a coal-fired espresso machine.

Omar Ali Sheikh, an economist and long-time Mogadishu resident, says his choice for president is incumbent Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed who has led the Transitional Federal Government since 2009.

"He [has] experience now, what to do next," he says. "But the coming one, he don't know what to do, or where to start, he have to deal with that involvement. To learn that involvement takes him time, so we have not that time, we are already 21 years in this problem.”

But Ali will not have a say in the election. The vote will be conducted by the new parliament, after the appointment of a new speaker, expected some time next week.

Somali political analyst Abdihakim Aynte says the members of the current administration, including President Sharif, have a strong advantage, having overseen the political transition and being involved in the selection of the new parliament.

He notes that the president, the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament have all been accused of abusing their power.

“These are the three incumbent leaders who are, at the same time, running for president," said Aynte. "And, they have been alleged to be engaged in wholesale corruption in trying to use the public media and trying to use the government institutions as a tool for campaigning.”

But Prime Minister Abdiwelli Mohammed Ali argues that his work in office, overseeing strong security gains across the country and the difficult political transition, prove his success as a leader.

“If you had been here 10 months ago, you will see the difference of today, this is due to the fact that my government worked very hard to make sure that the country has been liberated, stabilized and [we] established a constitution for the country,” says Ali.

But the incumbents do have plenty of competition. Some 60 people have declared their candidacy to be Somalia's next president.

One presidential hopeful, former Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known by his nickname “Farmajo” enjoys strong public support, but has a rocky history with the current administration, after being forced to resign as a condition of an agreement to end the political transition.

Casting himself as an outsider, Farmajo uses this as his campaign pitch:

“There is an old saying that the definition of insanity is that if you do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. If the members of parliament elect or select the current leadership, nothing will change,” he says.

Other outside candidates also suffer from a lack of resources. Presidential campaigns around the world need money to succeed, but in Somalia, political insiders say vote buying is seen as another path to victory.

Allegations of corruption and influence peddling have plagued the transition process. The United Nations warned earlier this month of reports of politicians using intimidation to influence the selection of members of parliament.

But political analyst Aynte says another factor, even more important than money in Somalia, is clan affiliation.

“Still you cannot rule out the factor of clan here," he says. "Still you can argue that money plays a role. But I would argue that among everything, clan plays a critical factor in this election and it will play a huge role in this election.”

Aynte says it is important to pay attention the selection of the next speaker. If he or she comes from the Hawiyye clan of President Sharif then it could be that another clan will win the presidency.

Aynte will not make any predictions, saying only, “This election will be close and it will be tough.”