Yesterday Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed named a new prime minister to replace Omar Sharmarke, who left the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) about three weeks ago after a protracted conflict with Sheikh Ahmed. The new PM, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, like Sharmarke has had significant experience in North America. The NYT describes his background:
A statement from the Somali government said that Mohamed is a former Somali diplomat. He worked in the Somali Embassy in Washington from 1985 to 1988, according to the government’s website.
Mohamed has taught conflict resolution and leadership skills at Erie Community College, a member of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, according to his resume. He has a master’s degree in political science from SUNY-Buffalo, it said.
Compare that with Sharmarke’s biography (from Wikipedia):
Sharmake is the son of the former second President and first Prime Minister of Somalia, Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, who was assassinated in 1969, and Ruqia Dahir Ali Boss, the daughter of a well-known Somali Islamic scholar from the Meheri clan.
He studied at Carleton University in Ottawa, where he obtained degrees in political science and political economy. Although his family is based in Virginia in the United States, Shermarke holds both Somali and Canadian citizenship.
He has worked in a diplomatic capacity for the United Nations in Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone, and served as a political advisor on the Darfur conflict in Sudan. Before becoming Prime Minister, Sharmarke was Somalia’s ambassador-designate to the United States.
Some differences appear (Sharmarke is perhaps more elite), but on the whole it seems to me that the two men share a lot, especially diplomatic experience and post-graduate American degrees. I know little about either politician, but critics who charge that Western-educated elites dominate the TFG will find confirmation for their claims in Mohamed’s resume.
The NYT adds that Mohamed will operate with a smaller cabinet than Sharmarke’s and will face a somewhat different American policy framework toward Somalia. The US will continues to engage the TFG but will also begin to deal directly with other actors in Somalia.
The TFG, then, may benefit from having a new PM, but its tasks have not become any easier. Before Mohamed’s appointment, IRIN released a scathing analysis, “Missed Opportunities in Somalia,” that says:
Weak leadership and internal divisions have prevented Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) from exploiting splits among its Islamist insurgent enemies, say analysts.
Al-Shabab and Hisbul-Islam insurgents have, in the past two months, intensified attacks against government forces and allied African Union (AU) troops. Clashes in Mogadishu between 1 and 3 October, for example, left at least 50 people dead and 174 wounded, according to local human rights organizations.
However, divisions within insurgent ranks have increased to a point where rival groups are close to confrontation, sources said, allowing TFG and the AU troops to make some gains.
“They had promised to topple the government by the end of Ramadan, but they did not,” one civil society activist working in conflict resolution told IRIN. “They are divided over policy, but the TFG did not or cannot take advantage of this opportunity. It is a sign of how weak the TFG is.”
According to the activist, the divisions among insurgents are an opportunity that a shrewd government could exploit to reach out to some insurgent factions. “The TFG has failed on multiple fronts,” he said.
The article goes on to analyze the potential complications of appointing a PM given clan politics in Somalia. I encourage readers who know a lot about clans to jump in if they have something to say about how Mohamed’s background will affect the TFG’s relations with various clans in Somalia.
More on Mohamed here. He inherits a difficult job. We will see how long he lasts. And we will see how the TFG itself does as criticisms of its performance continue to accumulate and as Washington searches for additional partners in Somalia.