By MOHAMMED IBRAHIM
MOGADISHU, Somalia — Hassan Sheik Mohamud, a moderate political activist and academic, took on one of the world’s most challenging political posts on Monday after members of Somalia’s newly created Parliament elected him the country’s next president.
Hassan Sheik Mohamud
The New York Times
Mr. Mohamud’s election, held in a highly fortified police academy, was heralded as a significant step forward for a country that has endured more than two decades of war and political instability. He will head a fledgling government that replaces the internationally backed transitional administration that had been trying to get Somalia back on its feet.
“I hope that the problems of Somalia will come to an end and Somalia will now turn a new page and that page will be written with good history rather than bad history,” Mr. Mohamud, 56, said after his victory, which was marked by celebratory gunfire across the capital from residents hopeful that he will address the country’s brutal violence, famine and dire poverty.
Mr. Mohamud, chairman of the Peace and Development Party, came in second out of 22 candidates in the first round of voting and then defeated Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who is the president of the departing transitional federal government, 190 to 79, in a head-to-head runoff.
Mogadishu, once a crumbling, war-torn capital, has shown tentative signs of bouncing back, with reconstructed hospitals, shops and homes. The Shabab, a militant group, has withdrawn from the city but continues to hold onto the port town of Kismayo.
Mr. Mohamud, who is from the town of Jalalaqsi in central Somalia, is a political neophyte but has long worked as a community activist for various nongovernmental organizations in Somalia, including the Center of Research and Dialogue, the International Peace Building Alliance and Unicef. He is expected to name a prime minister, who will form a council of ministers to begin running the long-broken nation.
Augustine P. Mahiga, a Tanzanian diplomat who has been the United Nations special Somalia representative of the secretary general for the past two years, said in a blog post on the eve of the voting that the new leader’s election would mark “one of the most important dates in the history of Somali politics.” He expressed high confidence in the legislative arm of Somalia’s government, saying its members were “capable of delivering a new Somalia in the next four years.”
But the country’s challenges are many, and not everybody was confident that the new leadership would turn Somalia around.
J. Peter Pham, director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, sounded glum. “There is perhaps no better illustration of the hope springing eternal, or delusion,” he said, “than the notion that the imposition from above of yet another interim regime pretending to be the government of Somalia — in this case, the 15th or 16th such entity, depending on how one counts them, since 1991 — will make one iota of difference to the tragedy of the world’s most spectacularly failed state or the heartbreaking suffering of its people.”