Somalia’s New President Is A Dual US-Somali Citizen

By Dana Sanchez Published: February 8, 2017, 3:44 pm

Somali lawmakers elected a new president today, choosing a former prime minister who is a dual U.S.-Somali citizen.

The vote was held in an aircraft hangar at the heavily guarded airport in Mogadishu, considered the safest place in the country, BBC reported. A no-fly zone was imposed to prevent attacks by militant Islamists.

Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” Mohamed spent much of his adult life in Buffalo, New York, Voice of America reported. He earned degrees from the State University of New York in Buffalo, raised a family there and held various jobs in the New York state government.

But he stayed involved in Somali politics and served eight months as Somali prime minister during 2010 and 2011, at the height of the insurgency by Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

The new president is popularly known as “Farmajo,” Italian for cheese, because he loves the dairy product, according to BBC.

Farmajo, 54, won the election won after two rounds of voting by the Somali parliament in Mogadishu. He defeated incumbent leader Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and former President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

Farmajo’s election is seen as moving the country toward its first fully functioning central government in 25 years.

Incumbent Mohamud conceded defeat, saying, “history was made; we have taken this path to democracy,” AP reported.

Somalia’s instability landed it on a list of seven Muslim-majority countries affected by President Donald Trump’s travel ban, even though its government has been an increasingly important partner for U.S. military counterterrorism efforts. These include drone strikes against al-Shabab leaders.

The U.S. has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Somalia in recent years for political and economic recovery, according to AP.

The new president, Farmajo, can travel to the U.S. on his U.S. passport, Chicago Tribune reported.

“This victory represents the interest of the Somali people,” Farmajo said after taking the oath of office. “This victory belongs to Somali people, and this is the beginning of the era of the unity, the democracy of Somalia and the beginning of the fight against corruption.”

Farmajo has lived in the U.S. since 1985, when he was sent there with Somalia’s foreign affairs ministry.

More than 20 candidates ran in the Somali presidential race, BBC reported. At least 16 have dual citizenship – nine have U.S. passports, four have U.K. passports and three have Canadian passports, according to a leading private Somali radio station.

Many Somalis obtained dual nationality after fleeing the decades-long conflict. The U.S., U.K., Kenya and South Africa are among countries where many Somalis have settled.

From Voice of America. Story by Dan Joseph.

Mohamud conceded defeat after the vote count, and the crowd inside a venue at Mogadishu’s international airport erupted into cheers. Witnesses tell VOA’s Somali service that celebrations — and celebratory gunfire — have broken out in the streets of the Somali capital.

The new president was quickly sworn in and pledged to improve security, fight corruption and assist the poor.

Al-Shabab threatened to disrupt the voting Wednesday but the election went off peacefully. African Union peacekeepers and government forces imposed tight security, sealing off all roads to the airport. All flights to and from the airport were canceled.

Corruption — vote-buying, fraud, intimidation — is the top concern in a nation that Transparency International now rates as the most corrupt in the world.

Ahead of the vote, candidates allegedly paid lawmakers millions of dollars in cash and gifts in an effort to win support. Election organizers had lawmakers drop their ballots in a transparent box, then counted the votes in front of the crowd to head off any charges of trickery.

Farmajo faces the task of eliminating al-Shabab and stabilizing a country that has seen almost continuous conflict since the early 1990s. Al-Shabab has repeatedly sent suicide bombers into Mogadishu hotels where lawmakers, diplomats and businessmen gather, in an effort to destabilize the fragile government.

In addition, aid agencies have warned of a possible famine affecting hundreds of thousands of Somalis due to violence and renewed drought.

Read more at Voice of America.

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