Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has a new prime minister. The previous officeholder, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, was forced out as one of Speaker of Parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden’s conditions for allowing his rival, President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, to extend his mandate through August 2012. Mohamed’s replacement is Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, who had served under Mohamed as deputy prime minister and minister of planning and international cooperation.
Ali, like many other members of the Somali elite, is foreign-trained: he obtained MA degrees from Harvard and Vanderbilt, and has taught since 2003 at Niagara University (see his faculty profile, which includes a link to his CV, here). Ali has an extensive record of publications, and with prior experience in government he clearly has strong qualifications to serve. As Jeffrey Gettleman writes at the New York Times, Ali will offer a high degree of continuity with his predecessor, who had a similar resume and was also American-trained: “The president…seemed to be continuing with his preference for Western-educated technocrats by naming Abdiweli Mohamed Ali to the post of prime minister.”
Ali takes office at a delicate time. Mohamed had a following both within parliament and in the streets, and the president’s demand for his resignation evoked days of protests. Ali will likely survive the confirmation vote parliament must hold, but then he will move to the real challenge of building a strong relationship with a body that is still resenting being sidelined during the recent deal between Sheikh Ahmed and Aden. Ali also works with the knowledge that he, like his predecessor, is vulnerable to the political needs of the president. Ali is therefore under pressure to both perform well and keep his head down.
Furthermore, the dispute between Sharif Ahmed and Aden, the legally questionable extension of the TFG’s mandate, and the ouster of Mohamed have all damaged the TFG’s already weak international reputation. Ali will face some pressure to improve that reputation – already the UN has called on the TFG and the new prime minister to “[work] together to implement priority tasks, including finalizing the constitution, reforming institutions, enhancing security and rebuilding the security sector, continuing outreach and reconciliation, improving accountability and rolling out basic administrative and social services to ensure the stabilization of areas recovered from armed groups.” That’s a tall order.