Outsider Hassan Mohamud who defeated Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in Somali presidential race, is unknown
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a 56-year-old university lecturer chosen by lawmakers on Sept.10 as Somalia’s new president, is something of an unknown quantity.
“We don’t know much about him at all,” a western diplomat told AFP as voting in the presidential poll drew to a close.
“He comes from Somali civil society and he has links to Al Islah, the equivalent of the Muslim brotherhood. It’s only in the past two days that we’ve been hearing a lot about him,” the diplomat said.
In academic and NGO circles Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the co-founder of the Somali Institute of Management and Administrative Development (SIMAD), is said to be a respected and influential figure who specialises in education.
In the streets of Mogadishu news of his election was met with residents firing into the air to express their joy.
SIMAD was set up to ensure that war-ravaged Somalia got its fair share of managers and administrators. Born in 1955 in Jalalaqsi in the central Hiran region, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is, like the outgoing president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed whom he beat in the poll, from the powerful Hawiye, the majority clan in Mogadishu.
According to the website of the political party he set up last year, the new president has two decades of experience behind him, both in education and in conflict resolution.
Few people if indeed any in the international community that has been backing the political transition in Somalia, guessed Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who studied at Somalia’s national university before the civil war started in 1991 and then at Bhopal University in India, would win the top job.
He did stints with the UN children’s agency UNICEF in the first years after the 1991 ouster of Mohamed Siad Barre.
In 2009 he co-authored a report for the UN Development Programme in which he underlined the importance of the huge but politically fragmented Somali diaspora, arguing that it should play a more “systematic” role in peace buiding in Somalia.
Unlike many Somali political figures, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is not part of the diaspora.
The new president has never served as a minister, nor, up until the past few days, as an MP. In his party’s manifesto he said he wanted to “build a society free from the demons of clan politics, from fear and from internal conflicts.”
Laura Hammond, a Britsh academic who worked with SIMAD, said Hassan Sheikh Mohamud had managed to hold talks with the extremist Shebab, who, even after they chased other groups out of the areas they control, allowed SIMAD to remain.
“I think he will be a moderate,” Hammond told AFP Monday evening, just before the official announcement of his election.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s party describes him as the architect of Somali civil society.
Others say it is too difficult to get an accurate idea of the new president and predict his political programme or form an idea of how capable he is of getting Somalia back on track.
“There are quite a lot of unknowns, starting with who is this new president who appeared from nowhere a few days ago and who has no political experience,” the western diplomat told AFP.
Immediately after the poll, the BBC’s Mary Harper reported that the process in Somalia is still in many ways owned by outside powers who have for years been involved militarily and politically.
She said, however, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud could represent a different kind of future for the country because he is not associated with the violence and corruption of the past.
Outgoing President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has come under constant fire over alleged corruption in his government which he has consistently denied.
Earlier in an interview with The Independent, he issued fresh denials after a UN report alleged his administration was steeped in corruption.
“We think those are baseless rumors; there are no facts to it and the idea behind this is political, to damage the leadership of this country but also to make sure that it slows down the current process in terms of the political and security progress that has been done in this country,” Sharif said.
But Somali media is awash with excerpts of the UN report issued in July that accused Sharif’s presidency of “systematic embezzlement, pure and simple misappropriation of funds and theft of public money have become government systems.”
The nearly 200-page report lists various examples of money intended for TFG going missing, pointing out that for every US$10 received, US$7 never made it into state coffers. The report, which was written by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, clearly indicated that TFG’s top officials - including Sharif - were part of the outright theft.
“The Monitoring Group’s own investigations confirmed the involvement of senior TFG officials in the misappropriation of millions of dollars of domestic revenues and foreign aid,” it said.
The BCC correspondent concluded that Hassan Mohamud faces massive challenges on multiple fronts – firstly, he will have to deal with the powerful politicians who lost the elections; then he has to try to reunite a country torn apart by two decades of civil conflict, much of which is controlled by the al-Shabab militia. Since the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has seen clan-based warlords, Islamist militants and its neighbours all battling for control.