For several years Somalia has made headlines around the world, generally in coverage related to wars, hunger, or security threats. On February 8, however, the easternmost country on the Horn of Africa was in the news for another reason. Presidential elections, which had been in the planning stage for more than a year, were finally held.
Some media outlets have reported the vote as the first democratic elections in 20 years, in a country described politically as a parliamentary federal republic. The majority of votes went to Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, who had served as Prime Minister in 2012, and will be the nation's ninth President. At 55 years of age, he has political and diplomatic experience, and is also a United States citizen.
This detail may have had an impact on his election, given diplomatic issues at stake since Donald Trump became the 45th U.S. President and adopted unilateral measures against several countries, including Somalia, which he placed on the controversial list of nations whose citizens are not allowed to enter the U.S. - a move still being challenged in court as possibly unconstitutional.
In sharp contrast is the fact that it is precisely in the United States where a considerable portion of Somali refugees reside. Washington sends financial aid to the country, and the new President, Farmajo, studied there, graduating in History and Political Science.
It is not only his double nationality that has put Farmajo at the center of the Somali elite's hopes, anxious to extract Somalis from Trump's list of prohibited immigrants, which includes citizens from six other mostly Islamic states.
While the current U.S. administration is threatening to cut aid to Somalia, President Farmajo said he would address important issues as the country's leader, among them the serious drought which is growing worse, threatening to precipitate a famine according to the FAO, as well as the Al Shabaab militia's terrorist attacks, EFE reported.
These are not the only challenges to be addressed by the incoming administration, considering that the country has inherited both ancient and new, non-conventional wars. The terrorist group Al Shabaab has submerged the country, and neighboring Kenya, into a sort of modern death camp, with frequent attacks every week.
Likewise well documented is one of the worst food crises Somalia has faced since July of 2011, a result of the most intense drought in 20 years, also affecting areas of Kenya and Ethiopia. More than three million people are at risk of dying of malnutrition, and some areas cannot be reached by aid organizations given the presence of insurgents, according to their spokespeople.
In 2012, the country's political parties met to draft a constitution, with the goal of replacing the transition government established in 2004 and unifying the nation, after decades of internal conflict, as well as clashes with neighbors such as Ethiopia, which Somalia invaded after obtaining independence from French and English colonial powers. Other forces intervened in this conflict, which became international, and Cuba joined the Ethiopian cause, helping to defend its borders against Somali aggression. After this stage, in the 1970s, bilateral relations became tense and were broken as Somalia turned toward the United States.
The impact of Trump's cuts and sanctions is especially great since the U.S. expanded its military presence in the country, and continued economic aid during Barack Obama's Presidency.
Nevertheless, the country hard hit by corruption, has now turned to a man presenting himself as a great fighter, ready to deal with the U.S. - and one who has the political profile and experience needed to establish the foundations to begin rebuilding Somalia.
The United Nations congratulated the new federal President in a statement, reported by PL: "The UN mission welcomes the victory of the former prime Minister, and UN special representative in Somalia Michael Keating pledges the organization's support to the leader and the people."
Another United Nations agency, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), expressed its support of a Supreme Court decision to annul the closing of the Dadaab refugee camp, the world's largest, adding that it will be closely following the situation of Somali refugees in Kenya.
Although Kenya argues that the camp has become a haven for terrorism and other illegal activity, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch stated, "The return of Somali refugees to their country of origin must be voluntary, and be conducted with security and dignity, when conditions allow."
Now that Somalia has a new president, perhaps these conditions identified by Baloch are a little closer at hand, and the 256,000 Somali refugees in the enormous Dadaab camp, located on the border with Somalia, can return to their country after an absence of 26 years, caused by the drought and civil war that since 1991 obliged them to flee the atrocities committed by Islamic fundamentalists.