Celebrations have erupted on the streets of Somalia after parliamentarians elected a new president, with crowds chanting songs and firing automatic weapons into the night sky. The election of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a 55-year-old former prime minister and dual US-Somali national with a reputation for independence and competence, has raised the hopes of millions of people in the poor and violent east African state. “I am really happy. I prayed hard. Now we have a good president. I hope he will take care of our country,” said Khadra Mohamud Ahmed, 42, from Mogadishu. Critics said the election – the most extensive and expensive democratic exercise in Somalia for decades – has entrenched divides between the country’s many traditional clans and encouraged graft. But others described it as a “way station” to political stability and full democracy. Michael Keating, the UN special representative for Somalia, described the poll as a “political process with electoral features”, and “pretty brave to do”.
“There are a lot of problems [in Somalia] of course, but it is not a place falling apart, it is a place coming together,” he told the Guardian. The new president will have to deal with multiple challenges: the threat posed by extremist groups in Somalia, a looming famine, weak institutions, feuding factions and rampant unemployment in a country where more than 70% of the population is under the age of 30.
Somalia was also among seven Muslim-majority states named in Donald Trump’s contentious executive order suspending immigration to the US last week.