Somalia: The top 10 candidates to watch ahead of the presidential polls

By Mohamed Sheikh Nor
Posted on Tuesday, 26 April 2022 00:51

Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo and his wife Zeinab Abdi applaud during his inauguration ceremony in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, February 22, 2017. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo and his wife Zeinab Abdi applaud during his inauguration ceremony in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, February 22, 2017. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

After numerous delays, Somalia’s newly elected parliamentarians were sworn into office. The moment cemented the country’s efforts to hold its much-awaited elections that is following a tight deadline to choose a new president by the end of May before it loses out on the international funding promised for the government. Ahead of the polls, we look at the top 10 candidates to watch out for.

Following the swearing-in of the new MPs in the 11th parliament on 14 April, the next step ahead of the presidential polls is the upper house (senate) and house of the people elections. On Tuesday 26 April, senate members must elect their speaker, and on Wednesday 27 April, the newly elected parliamentarians must choose their speaker.

Should Somalia falter on its deadline, it is feared that its debt-relief package will be cancelled have to be started again.

A dozen candidates are running for the presidency. Victory is determined by the number of votes from MPs.

Here’s a look at the top 10 candidates, of which five have notably invested resources to ensure their favourite MPs made it through the parliamentary process, while the other five are pursuing their goal more through determination and perceived political influence.

1. Sharif Sheikh Ahmed

Former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was head of state from 2009 to 2012. He is credited with strengthening the federal government and driving out the Islamist rebels of Al-Shabaab from Mogadishu. Sheikh Sharif is soft spoken and has a reputation as a peacemaker who has the capacity to bring together politicians with diverse viewpoints. His win could enhance reconciliation among Somalia’s political elite as the country recovers from prolonged ethnic conflicts.

2. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud

Former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is a formidable candidate with substantial support from the new parliament. He took office after Sheikh Sharif in 2012 with a promise to secure the country. Hassan Sheikh is an ardent critic of his successor, President Mohamed ‘Farmaajo’ Abdullahi Mohamed. During the prolonged election delays, the former president blamed Farmaajo after his home was attacked, allegedly by government security forces. Sheikh Sharif and Hassan Sheikh have agreed in principle to switch their votes to support the other depending on who wins the most votes in the first round of elections. The alliance between the two former presidents gives them an edge among the contenders.

3. Hassan Ali Khaire

Former prime minister Hassan Ali Khaire’s bid for the top job complicates the situation for all the presidential aspirants. After his appointment as prime minister by President Farmaajo in March 2017, Khaire emerged as a charismatic youthful leader, though critics associate him with the suppression of free speech and worsening of relations between states and the federal government. Khaire was removed from office through a vote of no confidence in parliament in July 2020.

Before his removal, he was the longest-serving prime minister since the collapse of the central government in 1991. His fallout with Farmaajo led to the motion of no-confidence. Observers say the impeachment was illegal, though Hassan Khaire resigned from his position.

Khaire has gained in popularity through oratory skills. He is considered to be one of the finest speakers in Somalia’s political circles. The former premier has staunch loyalists in the current parliament as he financed and supported a number of parliamentarians during the preliminaries at the state level. During his tenure as prime minister, he created alliances with leaders of the federal states. This could certainly work in his favour in the race for the presidency.

4. Abdurahaman Abdishakur

Abdurahaman Abdishakur is another strong candidate who has support from the Somali business community. Abdishakur has been a thorn in the side of the outgoing government, having pushed to help the Mogadishu business community, which he says suffered poor government policies that stunted business growth. He is a seasoned and eloquent politician and has vowed to correct problems created by Farmaajo, particularly the weakening of the federal system.

5. Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo

The incumbent president has not officially declared his candidature, but it is widely argued that does not want to vacate Villa Somalia. Without doubt, Farmaajo is the leading contender, having financed and supported a large number of parliamentarians who were elected in their home states. He is supported by Southwest state president Abdiaziz Laftagareen, whose administration has the largest number of federal MPs.

Farmaajo’s critics, however, call him incompetent and say he has slim chances of being re-elected. They accuse him for failing to implement national priorities, such as the integration of the national army, drafting of a provisional constitution, strengthening federalism and enacting legislation on the status of Mogadishu. Residents of the capital have been lobbying for the establishment of a body of representatives and local administration elected through a competitive process, as is the case in federal members states.

“President Faramaajo failed to implement five priorities that were mandated by his government. He went ahead to undermine federalism in all ways possible,” says Hassan Sheikh, a political analyst and professor at the University of Somali National University. He argues that Farmaajo does not deserve to a second chance in Villa Somalia.

6. Said Abdullahi Deni

A late entrant to the presidential race is Puntland’s president Said Abdullahi Deni. For many Somalis, Deni’s erratic leadership in Puntland places him at a disadvantage, with critics continually citing his suppressive politics at the helm of a regional administration.

Ideally, we would like parliamentarians to elect someone who has lived and worked in Somalia for the past 30 years, who has never been tried for a crime in Somalia, and definitely not a person from the diaspora.

7. Hassan Barise

Hassan Barise is a well-known media personality and civil society activist. He was the face of BBC in Somalia at the height of the civil war, a time when few media outlets reported from the country. Barise is credited with providing neutral and credible news when the country was deeply divided by conflicts.

His popularity prompted him to run for president. His courage to take on seasoned politicians attracted support from netizens. His supporters say his campaign has been transparent and neutral, with no links to foreign influences.

8. Yahye Amir

Yahye Amir is a hard-hitting political analyst who claims there will be a lot of dirty politics during Somalia’s 2022 election. He points a finger at lawmakers who are solely motivated by money to vote for a candidate. “It is not about capacity, competency, and integrity, what matters is the amount of money on offer. It is not important who the individual is, but rather how much he can pay for a vote. Everyone running for office, parliament, or for the presidency is often asked, do you have money? Which foreign government is funding you? So, everything is for sale,” Amir said.

While there is much underhanded dealing in Somali politics, especially in this election, Amir says the legislature and politicians should consider a candidate who is patient, courageous, competent, knowledgeable and trustworthy. “Ideally, we would like parliamentarians to elect someone who has lived and worked in Somalia for the past 30 years, who has never been tried for a crime in Somalia, and definitely not a person from the diaspora,” Amir also said.

9. Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsameh

Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsameh has been a longstanding politician and an outspoken critic of Farmaajo’s government. The former planning minister under then president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and newly elected MP ran against Farmaajo in the last presidential polls in 2017.

At the start of Farmaajo’s term, the two seemed to be working well together, but things soured. In December of that year, he and other member’s of the Wadajiir Party were attacked at its headquarters. Five of his security guards were killed.

Abdirahman Abdishakur has since turned against Farmaajo and has become known for his criticism of the President. During the past five years, he acted as the sole voice of the opposition against the Farmaajo’s administration. That in turn had stand out as a consistent, focused and courageous leader.  That in turn saw him stand out as a consistent, focused and courageous leader.

His advocacy for the rights of Mogadishu business community due to, what he says are poor government policies stunting business growth, further endeared him to the average Somali.

As a seasoned and notably eloquent politician, Abdirahman Abdishakur strikes the right notes with the electorate and has vowed to correct the wrongs committed by Farmaajo, particularly the suppressing of the federal system of governance.

10. Abdulkadir Osoble

Abdulkadir Osoble is a prominent businessman in Mogadishu but has been active in politics since 2009 as an MP. He ran in the presidential race twice and failed to amass a substantial number of votes. He is also a critic of Farmaajo’s government.

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