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With Time Running Out, New Somali Cabinet Brings Hope of Progress

  • Michael Onyiego

Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, 1 Nov. 2010

Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, 1 Nov. 2010

Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's newly unveiled cabinet is being praised as a lean and potentially effective group to help him rebuild Somalia. But many fear it may be too late for the technocrat-heavy group to make any progress.

Less than two weeks after taking office, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has named his cabinet, which he believes can unite the country's fractious government.

Mr. Mohamed's list included a majority of technical experts, indicating a departure from politically appointed cabinets of previous Somali administrations.

The prime minister's proposal also made good on his desire to streamline the Somali government. The team includes 18 names, a major cutback compared with previous prime minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke's team of 39. Among the 21 offices cut by the new Premier was the Ministry of Tourism, a seemingly unnecessary job in a country which has seen two decades of near-constant war.

The new cabinet, which Mr. Mohamed called "lean, but capable" has retained only two members of the previous government: Minister for Finance and Treasury Hussein Halane and Deputy Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar.

A U.S.-based Somalia Observer at Purdue University, Michael Weinstein, said the proposed cabinet is a step forward for Somalia.

"If you look at it from one viewpoint this is probably the most competent and least corrupt cabinets that has ever been named. It also is weighted towards Sheikh Sharif. If this had happened when the Djibouti agreement was made you might have even had the prospect of success," Weinstein said.

But Abdullahi has drawn internal criticism for his disregard of the clan-based 4.5 system on which the Somali government has been built. The transitional constitution requires the government to share power among the country's four major clans and a coalition of minority groups.

Since his appointment by President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed one month ago, Mr. Mohamed insisted that his cabinet appointments would be based on ability rather than clan affiliation.

The new prime minister has drawn heavily on the Somali diaspora to help lead the embattled government. Though born Mogadishu, Abdullahi Mohamed is an American citizen and spent the past 20 years outside Somalia, living in New York and teaching at a local community college. Many of his cabinet appointees hail from similar backgrounds.

The cabinet also makes room for members of Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa, an armed group that joined the government in the fight against al-Qaida-linked insurgents al Shabab nearly two years ago. The group has been given two posts in the new government, including the key Ministry of Interior and National Security. Many see the inclusion of Ahlu Sunna, which had been previously excluded, as a critical step in fighting the rebel threat.

But despite the high hopes for Mr. Mohamed's new cabinet, some feel it comes too late to make any difference. The U.N.-backed administration was tasked with establishing a permanent government by 2011. Weinstein says the mandate will have to be extended if the government has any chance of fulfilling that promise.

"The unanswered question is: are they really serious - the donors - about having a permanent government come August and how in the world are they going to do it. How does this new government fit into that? You would have to have an extended mandate for this government to be able to actually see if it can accomplish anything," Weinstein states.

The terms of the 2009 U.N. agreement require the Mohamed government to hold nationwide elections and a constitutional referendum by August of next year.

The list of cabinet appointees goes to the Somali parliament for approval or rejection.

Somalia has been without a functional government since 1991. Insurgent group al-Shabab controls much of southern and central Somalia and the Transitional Federal Government relies on international peacekeepers from the African Union to maintain control over parts of Mogadishu.

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