On 15 May, Somali lawmakers voted in new president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. The peaceful vote and transfer of power drew a line under what had been a fraught, long-delayed and sometimes violent electoral process that repeatedly threatened to tip into a major political crisis. Defeating the incumbent Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as “Farmajo”, Hassan Sheikh became the first Somali to hold the presidency twice – having already served between 2012 and 2017. The new president promises reconciliation among Somalis and a new era of peace. But he faces daunting challenges. Foremost among them are deep divisions among Somali political elites, particularly between the capital Mogadishu and Somalia’s federal member states, or regions, and the long struggle against the Islamist militant group and al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab.
This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Omar Mahmood, Crisis Group’s Senior Somalia Analyst, to talk about what the change in power means for Somalia. They discuss how it might impact domestic politics, notably the fraught dynamics between Mogadishu and federal member states. They look at how Somalia’s foreign relations might evolve: in the Horn of Africa, where Farmajo had forged tight links to Ethiopia and Eritrea; in the Gulf, where Farmajo’s close ties to Qatar had alienated the United Arab Emirates; and with Western governments that had grown impatient with his election delays. They then talk in depth about a forthcoming Crisis Group report on prospects for dialogue with Al-Shabaab. Omar and Richard map out the many challenges to such engagement: the troubled history of dialogue with Al-Shabaab, the group’s uncompromising nature, unpopularity and foreign ties, political fractures among other Somalis and resistance in regional capitals. They examine why, despite all the challenges, it would be worth President Hassan Sheikh testing the water with the group’s leaders to see what sort of compromise might be feasible.
For more on Somalia, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Somalia country page and keep an eye out for our upcoming report “Testing the Water: Considering Political Engagement with Al-Shabaab in Somalia”.