MOGADISHU, Somalia — One year ago, Somalia’s capital Mogadishu had an image of a war zone. Presidential candidates today are campaigning with election posters hanging on buildings, main roads and even on cars. One sign shopowner said campaign excitement not only is good for business, but also is important for the country's stability.
A sign-printing shop in downtown Mogadishu is busier than usual these days. While the Sign Jet shop near the kilometer four traffic circle used to rely on business from shopkeepers and aid agencies, they recently have been receiving a new kind of customer: presidential candidates.
Badal Sheikh Mohamed is the head of Sign Jet and said that presidential candidates are ordering election posters specifically to target the public.
“Although their target number was less, they want to educate the public. But those who will elect them are 275 MPs [members of parliament], so they are saying they are educating the public because [the] public will also educate them [MPs] so they convey the message through the public,” said Mohamed.
New twist on Somali election
This election is unique to both Somali leaders and citizens. For the first time a presidential election will take place in Somalia, compared to the past when elections were something only held in neighboring countries.
Campaigning is taking place in public places and candidates are reaching out to people hoping they will influence members of the Somali parliament who will actually vote for president.
Mohamed said this year’s presidential election is unique because candidates are campaigning in their own country.
“The elections before they were outside and we just received an imported government body: the president, speaker of parliament, all of them, they have been elected outside the country [and] they have come as an imported man, 'me [I] am the president, I have been elected outside,' so today is different. He is campaigning within his people and saying, 'me [I] am here,'” said Mohamed.
Booming business for sign makers
According to Sign Jet Chief Designer AbdulKhadir Abdule, they have designed presidential posters for more than 20 candidates so far.
He said they are designing the posters and then we are showing them what they have designed and if they are satisfied with the designing, then they go ahead and print posters for them. The campaigns give employees more work to do since they have so many presidential candidates. What candidates share in common, he said, is that they want to see their names written visibly, they want a clear picture and they want to see the national flag in the background.
More than 30 candidates are vying for the presidential seat, including three senior transitional government leaders - the current president, the speaker of parliament and the prime minister.
The candidates, who are taking part in the first presidential race in the city in more than two decades, are organizing political gatherings in hotels, public squares and football fields they are engaging the public in the process although ordinary Somalis won't be able to vote.
Somalia's new conditions
Mohamed said his business thrives on a good political environment and security like what now can be witnessed in the city.
“Mogadishu, one year before it was somehow difficult because the fighting was going on. I remember one day when I was standing at my door outside, mortar shells was there, wounded people was there, so it was not easy," said Mohamed. "But now [I] am seeing someone who is taking posters saying 'elect me' - so the phenomenon has been changed and our business is based on peace. Whenever peace comes it will attract many customers.”
The presidential election was supposed to take place by August 20, but because of delays in the process, candidates are likely to have a couple more weeks of campaigning, which should give sign-makers more time to cash in.