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06:56, 29 May 2017 Monday
15:03, 16 February 2017 Thursday

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Somalia's new leader faces delicate balancing act
Somalia's new leader faces delicate balancing act

This fragile core is further weakened by deeply entrenched corruption and the rivalries in a maze-like clan structure that dominate Somali politics.

World Bulletin / News Desk

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's victory in Somalia's presidential election last week brought joyous crowds into the streets of Mogadishu, a testament to the former prime minister's enduring popularity.

But analysts warn that the iron will and nationalist discourse that Somalis fondly remember from his time as premier could be Mohamed's biggest obstacles when it comes to rebuilding the world's most notorious failed state.

Mohamed, who is better known by his nickname Farmajo, or "Cheese", has inherited an administration that has limited control over Somali territory due to the presence of Shabaab Islamists, and is heavily propped up by the international community.

"There is a super-sized expectation, but the problems that bedevilled Somalia for three decades won't vanish because Farmajo is the president," said Abdirashid Hashi, a researcher at the Heritage Institute.

- Why so popular? -
While prime minister for a mere eight months in 2010-11, Farmajo swiftly won over Somalis with his efforts to improve governance.

His resolute nationalism, in which he tried to revive Somali pride in a nation best-known for anarchy and bloodshed, was also well regarded.

He culled the number of government ministers and banned non-essential foreign trips by officials, and launched a program for stamping out corruption.

Farmajo's image also received a boost from the improved security in Mogadishu which saw Shabaab militants driven from the capital a few months after he stepped down as premier.

"It was under Farmajo that the groundwork was laid for this victory," said Roland Marchal, a researcher at Sciences Po university in Paris.

He was also highly popular within the military, not least because his government made sure to regularly pay soldiers, a rarity in Somalia's turbulent history.

- Risky nationalism -
Farmajo inherits a Somalia still operating under an interim constitution, with little in the way of solid administrative structures: the army, central bank, fiscal administration and electoral commission remain rudimentary.

While Farmajo favours a strong central government, Somalia has in recent years shifted towards a system of federalism.

The building of a state will require careful negotiations with powerful regions such as Puntland, Jubaland and Galmudug to finalise the constitution, properly define the federal agenda -- which has already been a bone of contention -- and stabilise the country.

"The fatal error of past Somali presidents has been to believe they can govern simply because they have a title," said Matt Bryden, a Somalia specialist with the Nairobi-based Sahan thinktank.

"The federal member states can't be ignored. Most are still embryonic but they have presence on the ground, they collect taxes, and they control the paramilitary forces that are fighting Al-Shabaab."



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Libya extremist group Ansar al-Sharia announces dissolution
Libya extremist group Ansar al-Sharia announces dissolution

The Libyan jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia, which is linked to Al-Qaeda and deemed a terrorist organisation by the UN and United States, announced its "dissolution" in a communique published online on Saturday. Washington accuses the group of being behind the September 11, 2012 attack on the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi in which ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed. Ansar al-Sharia is one of the jihadist groups that sprung up in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, in the chaos following the death of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011. They overran the city in 2014. East Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar earlier this month launched an offensive to oust jihadist fighters from their two remaining strongholds in Benghazi. In its communique Ansar al-Sharia said it had been "weakened" by the fighting. The group lost its leader, Mohammed Azahawi, in clashes with Haftar's forces in Benghazi at the end of 2014. Most of its members then defected to the so-called Islamic State group. Ansar al-Sharia later joined the Revolutionary Shura Council of Benghazi, a local alliance of Islamist militias. At its zenith, Ansar al-Sharia was present in Benghazi and Derna in eastern Syria, with offshoots in Sirte and Sabratha, western Libya. The organisation took over barracks and other sites abandoned by the ousted Kadhafi forces and transformed them into training grounds for hundreds of jihadists seeking to head to Iraq or Syria.