Somalia’s new prime minister, Hassan Ali Kheyre, has been sworn into office by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed on Wednesday 1 March, amidst renewed hope that the security situation will improve under the new regime.
Ali Kheyre, who is a dual Somali-Norwegian citizen, becomes head of government after previously working for the Norwegian Refugee Council and more recently in the oil sector. The new government faces greater challenges than almost any other in the world. It must rebuild national cohesion and infrastructure in the face of military opposition from the Islamist al-Shabaab militants and confront widespread famine.
New Somali Premier Hassan A Kheyre is sworn as the PM of the country. He was sworn by Prez of Supreme Court in front of legislators. pic.twitter.com/J7H4c8AJy6
— Mohamed Moalimuu (@MOALIMUU) March 1, 2017
President Mohamed, who is also known as Farmajo, was announced as Somalia’s new president on 8 February and he has taken only 20 days to select his prime minister. Ali Kheyre’s dual nationality is common among Somali politicians, given that most of them lived in exile during the long years of civil war, either in neighbouring countries or in the West.
President Mohamed, who served as prime minister for eight months in 2010-11, is a dual US-Somali national. He was working in the US when war broke out in Somalia in 1991 decided to stay in the country where his children still live.
The presidential election process was criticised by both Somali and international organisations. A spokesperson for Somali NGO Marqaati said: “The year 2016 was the worst year for accountability in Somalia as political actors sought to use whatever means possible to win the indirect elections process.” Yet the election was at least regarded as a step in the right direction.
In a report on the election, International Crisis Group stated: “Farmajo’s cross-clan support – the strongest platform for any Somali president – is a rare demonstration of unity in the ethnically homogenous but clan-fractured country. The mandate is indispensable for making critical progress on multiple fronts, particularly on reconciliation, addressing corruption and finalising the constitution.”
The population will be keen to see development projects but the government’s first task will be to increase funding for the army, both to help in the fight against al-Shabaab and keep the army loyal to the government. The security situation remains unstable, even in Mogadishu, where 34 people were killed in a car bomb attack on 19 February. The capital hosts thousands of refugees from other parts of the country who have arrived in different waves over many years.
On 28 February, President Mohamed declared a natural disaster after the United Nations estimated that about 5m people, almost half of the entire population, needed food aid. The United States Agency for International Development estimates that there are 363,000 acutely malnourished children in the country.
The famine is partly the result of conflict, as farmers are discouraged from improving their land because of the security threat. In addition, the war has prevented any government from encouraging agricultural development and instituting food security measures. At the same time, famine and insecurity creates an environment in which militant groups can prosper. It is this vicious circle that the new government must break.
A recent government statement warned that the famine “makes people vulnerable to exploitation, human rights abuses and to criminal and terrorist networks”. The two other parts of Africa considered at risk of famine by the United Nations, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria, are also deeply affected by conflict.
Nation building will be particularly difficult because of Somalia’s federal structure, which was designed to give more power to local ethnic groups. Mohamed’s victory in the presidential election may help to spread power out from the capital, as he comes from the Darod ethnic group in the north of the country, rather than the Hawiye, which tends to provide most of the country’s political leaders.
Building a national economy is likely to be a long but vital process. It would improve food security, help tackle the underlying causes of the country’s instability and generate the funds for the government to finance development and infrastructural projects.
There has been some oil exploration and while the discovery of commercial reserves would be welcomed by many, it could merely exacerbate existing tensions. In particular, an agreement would have to be reached on the division of any oil revenues between central government and the regions.