The Big Cheese: Why President Farmaajo holds so much hope for Somalia

Why is there so much excitement around the former prime minister’s surprise appointment as Somalia’s new president?

Somalia’s ninth president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo.

On 8 February, the protracted Somalia elections finally came to an end to widespread celebrations and surprise as Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo was appointed as the new president.

The former prime minister was one of 21 candidates vying to be Somalia’s 9th president in a process involving 329 newly-elected lawmakers. The decision went to a second round of voting in which Farmaajo received 184 votes to the incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s 97, prompting to the latter to concede peacefully.

This outcome came as a huge but largely welcome shock to most.

Who is Farmaajo?

The new president – known as Farmaajo, Italian for “cheese”, because of his reported love of the food – first became a well-known figure in Somalia in November 2010. At that time, he had been living and working in the US, where he holds dual citizenship, for 25 years. But he was suddenly plucked out of obscurity in the diaspora by then President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to become prime minister.

It is what happened in the following seven months that made him perhaps Somalia’s most popular politician in recent times.

Unlike so many of Somalia’s politicians, Farmaajo made an immediate and tangible difference on coming into office. For the first time since 1991, he reduced the cabinet from the customary 31 members down to a core of just 18, dropping redundant departments such as the Ministry of Tourism and Wild Animals. He fought corruption, establishing an Anti-Corruption Commission and increasing transparency around government spending and ministers’ assets. And he ensured salaries were disbursed to government workers and soldiers who hadn’t been paid for months, an accomplishment for which he is still fondly remembered.

Under Farmaajo, large swaths of territory were also recaptured from al-Shabaab. The momentum achieved in this period is believed to have been the cause of the Islamist militants’ withdrawal from the capital Mogadishu, for the first time since their inception, just a month and half after Farmaajo left office.

In 2011, however, the prime minister’s term came to an abrupt end. The president and then Speaker of Parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden had been embroiled in a bitter power struggle for months, and it was only resolved when the two struck a deal that included an agreement that Farmaajo would step down.

The resignation of the admired prime minister triggered days of demonstrations across Somalia and abroad, with protesters blaming foreign interference for his removal. Farmaajo’s popularity was particularly notable in Mogadishu from which his clansmen, who include former President Siad Barre, had been indiscriminately driven out in the 1990s civil war. His acceptance in the capital served as a reminder of how far Somalia has come.

The biggest mandate

Farmaajo’s popularity amongst the people combined with his mandate – the biggest since 1967 – gives the new president a tremendous opportunity to move Somalia towards stability, democracy and prosperity.

To achieve this, it is imperative that he avoids the mistakes of his predecessors, particularly in four key areas.

Firstly, Farmaajo must take great care in appointing his prime minister. The past four presidents all struggled with this and each went through at least three different PMs, with almost all the partnerships ending in acrimony. In some instances, internal conflicts lasted months, derailing any progress that could have been made. President Farmaajo must appoint somebody he trusts, that shares the same vision, and that will stick with him through his administration.

A second key area will be reconciliation. The brutal civil war that broke out in 1991 led the country to break up into several clan-based territories. Many Somalis never leave their regions.

The new president will need to set in motion a process of national reconciliation. Political grievances must be readdressed; the discriminatory parts of the constitution such as the 4.5 clan-based power sharing formula should be removed; and property should be returned to its rightful owners. By re-cultivating real trust between clans, Farmaajo can ensure a lasting peace.

[4 questions the new president must confront in deciding what kind of democracy Somalia should be]

Thirdly, the new president will have to tackle the insecurity that has long wracked the country. Even after some promising gains, Mogadishu has seen an increase in al-Shabaab attacks, to the extent that the venue of yesterday’s election had to be moved to the heavily fortified Aden Adde Airport.

To improve security, Farmaajo will have to pay special attention to Somalia’s security forces. Soldiers’ morale desperately needs to be built up with adequate training and the timely payment of salaries. This, in turn, could help the army recruit the young educated conscripts it needs to effectively replace the African Union forces (AMISOM) when they eventually leave the country.

Finally, Farmaajo will have to take great care in ensuring his rule is inclusive. The past two administrations were frequently criticised for concentrating power in the hands of the few. Under the new president, Somalis all over the country should be able to claim the government as their own and be proud of it.

As prime minister in 2010, Farmaajo openly expressed a disapproval of the 4.5 power-sharing formula that discriminates against smaller clans. At the time his capacity was limited, but now he has the power to walk the walk and ensure that his government is one that represents all Somalis.

Sakariye Cismaan is a political commentator. Follow him on twitter at @SakariyeCismaan.

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12 thoughts on “The Big Cheese: Why President Farmaajo holds so much hope for Somalia

  1. Sakariye Cismaan. Thank you for the quick analysis of the newly elected president. H.E. Maxamed Abdullahi Farmaajo is one of the outstanding President’s Somalia will have if all things work out as visionary as he is. There is possibility of a better somalia , Everybody is ready to work with him and everybody doesn’t literally mean all people. There will be resistances yes and ofcourse I believe the lawmakers and their leader and everybody who wishes peace and prosperity for somalia will be part of it.

    Somalia Hanolaato.

  2. Hello Zakariye, I agree with all your points and I think you make good arguments to support you case. However, I think you missed a key point that will determine if Farmajo will be a success. somalia has endured a long devastating drought and ordinary people have been impacted by it. The new president must address poverty and he needs to create jobs. I think this will be the ultimate factor that will decide his success.
    One other point I wanted to make was about the Somali civil war. It was a dark moment in our history, no one should deny the injustice that were done to all of the people. However, one should refrain from using words that may sound to blame one tribe for the civil war. I am referring to your words “had been indiscriminately driven out in the 1990s civil war.” I think you could have articulated your argument more wisely rather than sounding like a tribalist.
    Thank you.

  3. Am one of the people who was at the venue providing security.After the election we left to stadium camp where we stay.we met very many people celebrating and praising Amisom for the work done.me as an individual i only pray that the new gov’t should enforce law of rule.Armed personnel should be sensitised too.because in most cases they shoot minus any reasonable cause.i wish u the best in your office.(Am a ugandan fpu)

  4. Dear Zakariye,
    While agreed all other reccomendations you give in your analysis, however, I totally disagreed the mention of “clan reconciliation” idea. I don’t see Somali clans fighting on political basis. Dig out sir, the president may not need clan reconciliation issue.

  5. I fully agree with the writer’s description of what needs to be done in Somalia. BUT according to the provisional constitution Art. 90, the president has exactly 17 ‘powers and responsibilities’, and none of these are related to building and running the state, fighting insecurity and all the other tasks. In fact, according to the constitution Farmaajo has about as much power to run Somalia and the Queen has to run the UK. Somalia and the international community should discontinue trying to build a state by systematic and continuous breaches of the constitution, which established a parliamentarian system of governance. I doubt this is comparable with the African political mindset. Hence, a review and possibly revision of the constitution should be a first priority to finally base state building on the supreme law of the country and not against it.

  6. Stanley Byekwaso – Thank you for your and your comrades’ service in AMISOM. Your sacrifices on behalf of Somalia and Africa are well appreciated by anyone with even a basic knowledge of contemporary Somalia. I wish you and your comrades well during your deployment to the country.

  7. Great read, Our soldiers must be paid in the same timely manner that useless Amisom are paid. Once our armed forces have their pay their numbers will increase and we will be self efficient enough to kick Amisom and the African Union to the curb.

  8. @byekwaso Stanley The wind of unity of Somalis has hit in a full force my friend. Your days are numbered!! No Somalis with good logic will ever celebrate your presence in Somalia as you (Amisom) are considered useless who can’t even battle. How many times have you been rescued by untrained Somali militias turned soldiers? You are confined to your bracks. What happen in Mogadishu on Thursday? You saw the young gladiators refusing to let your convoy pass while shouting Amisom out of our country. I appreciate our African brothers coming to our aid but your assistance my friend is not genuine, you’re only in Somalia for the 1200$ a month. You see we Somalis have helped free a lot of our fellow Africans from colonialism but most Africans see Somalia as a cash cow now. Just remember Somalis never forget who kicked them when they were down is in our Cushiatic blood line. Is unfortunate what we have done to ourselves and we don’t blame this on nobody but our selves. The Somalia tomorrow will be stronger and greater then the Somalia of yesterday. We will see the day when South Africa will kneel to us as she was the one who we have helped unconditionally during the apartheid when all of Africa has turned its backs on her. In return she paid us back by burning our nationals to death in the streets. Somalia was in a forefront of pan-africanism but since the civil war, that’s in the back burner until we restore our dignity and make rest of Africa respect us as they did prior to our civil war.

  9. Somalis let us take a moment. Yes the election of farmajo is a positive development and he has 4 yrs of mandate — Let’s judge him according to his actions and not by his words. history teaches us that so many great men and women have come with great ideas yet accomplished so little. So like so many of you, I will be watching Mr. Farmajo! Cheers!

  10. Why president farmaajo holds so much hope for somalia?
    The answer is simple and clear that is his genuineness!!!

  11. The Election of Mohamed Farmaajo has brought hope to all Somalis regardless of which region they come from. Today, Somalia needs brilliant and well educated people who can rebuild the government institutions. It clear that government is not run by the president and his prime-minister or even the cabinet secretaries. It’s the people who can determine there future outcome. I do understand that the decision made by these top government officials can have a major impact and significant contribution to the goals of the next 4 years to come.
    One thing that would make Somalia unique and unified nation is when their citizens realize the need of united country. Its can unacceptable of the country to divided into regions states which based on tribal boundaries. As the Somali people and its regional leaders support such ideas of divisions it would be so difficult to have a strong Somalia that can engage with the rest of the world. Hence, I argue that Somali unity depends which region blocks come together and support other the greater Somalia. Its also important to recognize what happen during the “civil war” but that should not determine the future of Somalia after 26 years to came. The civil war concept and ideologies is being used by leaders whose goals is to divided and conquer with the aim of accumulating wealth. Dear Somalis’ our unity depended when we recognize each other and be our brothers and sisters keeper.

    Thank you, Adan.

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