September 11, 2012 ·2 Comments
Finally Somalia is out of transition and has elected a new President. Although elected only by MP’s and not by the wider voting population, Professor Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud won convincingly against the incumbent Sheikh Sheriff who conceded defeat almost on the spot. There were many claims of vote buying and endemic corruption within the selection process but what mattered most was that after all the votes were counted live on TV, there was absolutely no disputing who had been selected to carry out one of the most difficult jobs in the world.
What makes the elections more remarkable was that Professor Mahmoud, an academic and civil society leader, was viewed as an outsider by most who thought Sheikh Sheriff would retain the post or if a real challenger was to emerge, it would be one from the Diaspora. However, in a previous article (see reference) I made it very clear that the Diaspora politicians and their political organizations had the most remotest of chances and that MPs would vote for those they know and feel they can work with in government and not those who parachute themselves in with flashy degrees and perfect foreign accents. This was clearly proven to be true yesterday but the winner was an unlikely candidate who won by an unquestionable clear majority.
Inspiring hope in the process was not just that an outsider who was outspent in the political campaign game has won, but that he was chosen at home in his own capital by representatives of his own people. Unlike in Nairobi and Djibouti before it, Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud was sworn in as President in the capital he has been tasked with turning around, governing and welcoming future investors and visitors to. The process was more special as it was, despite the financial help of international donors, owned by Somalis throughout. This should be a lasting source of national pride and one that will give the newly elected president the political momentum to set out his vision and carry it out with purpose and real authority. It should also act as a shield against sore losers and vested interest that wants to derail his future plans for his nation.
Of course it is not all rosy. The election took place in a heavily fortified zone and at times appeared chaotic. Allegations of vote rigging, cash for votes and unholy alliances between sore first round losers and the later winner are rife. However, it is done. There has been a peaceful transition from one leader to another all in the space of under an hour. Where else in recent history has this been witnessed in Africa? Have we forgotten Kenya’s pre-election ethnic violence? Or Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda’s one candidate “free and fair” elections all won by unchallenged incumbents?
The international community arguably may only have been interested in Somalia and its peace process because of their fear of Al-Qaida relocating there and international shipping routes been disturbed but their reasons injected resources and a sense of urgency into the political process which resulted in yesterday’s successful election. There is no doubt that engagement and co-operation with international partners is going to be very crucial for Somalia’s gradual progress into peace and development as in an age of globalization and political and socio-economic interdependence this is the oxygen for survival. However, the new administration must heed the lessons of the dominant four times Liberal Prime Minister of Britain during the Victorian era, William Gladstone, who passionately argued that the first principle of foreign policy is good government at home.
Going forward Professor Mahmoud should seek to appoint a team made up of the best he has available to him which can help unite the country and get the process of long term, sustainable institution building and national reconciliation on the way. He needs to capitalize on his untarnished reputation to reach out to the Somali people and ask for their co-operation and partnership in the creation of national stability, growth and prosperity. More importantly, many of the unsuccessful candidates are highly qualified and command support within different sections of the Somali community both at home and abroad. Political maturity and foresight would ensure that far from isolating them, he brings them into the process by offering them positions that best reflect their abilities if they are available and in the process quash any desires they may have of ruining his ambitions out of jealousy from the outside. If most of the unsuccessful Presidential candidates were serious about only having the national interest at heart as they claimed on the campaign trail, then if need and when called upon they will dutifully play a part in the reconstruction of their country. If not, they can go back to where they came from and feel sorry for themselves there.
The election of Professor Mahmoud may not have been fair and only restricted to MPs who may have been corrupted by bribes and untold promises but a powerful, wealthy incumbent who the world was certain was untouchable lost by a substantial majority. This is a sign of real change in Somalia. Cynics will say that the new President is from the same tribe as the old one but this is irrelevant. He is his own man and the two have nothing in common other than the tribe they were born into. Somalia has always been at a cross roads, never venturing too deeply into one path over the other. Its people are scared and weary but today they have woken up more hopeful than yesterday.
The ultimate test for is at the next elections when he will be an incumbent himself. Will his future still be decided by MPs in a heavily fortified zone or by the wider population in election booths all over the land? This will very much determine how successful he has been as a leader. The cost of failure on the other hand, can be another two decades in the political wilderness until another influx of terrorists or pirates makes the international community take notice. This Somali people cannot afford and should not be subjected to again by those that seeks to represent them.
For earlier article on Diaspora political Parties please visit: