By Ashely Halabi | February 16, 2017
In a country where civil unrest has become the norm, the prospect of an authentic election is considered a true milestone. Somalia, which has been in war for decades with most of its population being malnourished and vulnerable, had its first legitimate presidential election last week for the first time in decades. After Western powers announced the elections, many people were hopeful of a new route to peace. Many candidates running for office chose corruption over democracy to capture power regardless of the effects on the nation. But an unexpected result proved that Somalia was still willing to achieve peace regardless of the obstacles.
Somalia has been in a bloody civil war ever since president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991. This event led to a disintegrated government and its lasting effects are still apparent today. Clan-based warlords divided the nation thereby allowing terrorist organizations like Al-Shabab to take control of major regions and commit deadly suicide attacks. Since then, none of the successive governments or interim presidents have been able to restore stability and peace in the country.
Following lengthy negotiations between Western powers and UN officials, it was finally decided to hold the elections at the heavily-fortified Aden Abdulle International Airport to be immune from any attack by Al Shabab. Also, Western powers decided to have indirect elections by having members of parliament vote for a president after clans decide on 329 members who are suitable to vote. This is due to the fear that Al Shabab will likely cause trouble if a country-wide election took place. Due to these reasons and many more, the possibility of having a strong government with a monopoly on violence seemed too good to be true. Candidates including the incumbent president were involved in corrupt acts like patronage deals, voter intimidation, and vote buying with some bribes reaching $1.3 million for just one candidate. Citizens were also unable to reject offers of bribery not because of tempting offers, but due to the fear that rejecting an offer would cause the clan to lose the trust in that person and would likely threaten their safety.
Having a corruption-free election seemed unachievable given Somalia’s rank as the most corrupt country in the world. This explains why many people, including Western donors who led this process, weren’t surprised when bribe accusations started to spread. Nevertheless, the Western powers along with millions of displaced Somalis hoped that this election process would be a promising chapter in the country’s dark history. This election was also promising to many Somali women especially when Fadumo Dayib, the first female candidate in the country’s history, decided to run for office. Unfortunately, Dayib decided to pull out of the elections after noticing the amount of corruption that she thought would delegitimize the whole election process.
In an effort to maintain the current Somali regime, large sums of money were allegedly sent from countries like Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. This led everyone to predict that the incumbent president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, would stay in power and emerge undefeated from the elections. Members of parliament were accused of selling their votes to the incumbent who used government funds to buy them.
To everyone’s surprise, the incumbent lost the second round to U.S.-Somali national and former prime minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamad by a margin of 184 to 97 votes. Unlike all other candidates, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamad, also known as Farmajo, was known for his independence from foreign manipulation and anti-corruption stances. His victory last Wednesday sparked nationwide celebrations due to his popularity and reputation.
Despite the hopeful election result, Somalia’s future still holds a great amount of uncertainty. This concern arises due to external powers that intervene in its politics and the civil wars that continually affect its population. Countries like Ethiopia and Sudan are only some of the countries that have contributed to this intractable conflict. Additionally, many Western donors have been uselessly sending aid to a corrupt and fractured government. Moreover, Somalis are now threatened by a 3rd famine in the span of only 25 years and the number of displaced persons and refugees is on the rise and exacerbated by the constant attacks by the terrorist Al-Shabab group.
Being a widely-respected president, Farmajo should begin the process of overcoming the political vacuum to prevent militants like Al-Shabab from taking over the country. He should opt for a development strategy to empower the citizens and impose a monopoly on violence so that refugees can return to their homes. However, it is still unclear whether he will opt for a confrontational or cooperative strategy with the terrorist organization that has proved to be the biggest threat to the stability of the country.
Somalia’s elections started off as another futile attempt at restoring a failed state. However, on election day, the country and its frayed population proved to be fed up of war and determined to wage a different war: one against corruption and violence.
Ashley Halabi is a first year MIA student at GPS, and a staff writer for JIPS. Her track is International Politics, where she focuses on human rights issues. Before attending GPS, Ashley was a writer for her university newspaper in Lebanon.