Somalia is holding its Presidential elections on Wednesday following notorious delays and five postponements.
Ahead of the polls meant to determine the country’s final journey from the ravages of violence, the African Union declared its “unwavering support” for Somalia.
“Amisom is working closely with the Somali National Security Forces to ensure the security of the election,” a statement from the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) said.
“In addition to ensuring security, AU joins the international community as election observers, reiterating unwavering support for Somalia.”
Amisom is a 22,000-strong force that has been in Somalia since 2007 to stabilise the country and beat down al-Shabaab. Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Burundi have each sent their troops there.
MILITANTS POSE A THREAT
That assurance is probably important given the massive threat Somali militants, Al-Shabaab pose. On Tuesday evening, the Shabaabs had attempted to attack an Amisom base at Albao, some 20km north-west of the capital Mogadishu.
According to Amisom, the attackers were “repulsed” resulting in eight casualties. But that was not the only attempt at spoiling the plans for elections. Amisom said it had killed four militants for attempting to plant an improvised explosive device on a road near Mogadishu.
This election is important because it may establish a pattern of peaceful change of government as well as continue to grow Somalia’s institutions especially for a country that has not heard a stable government for more than two decades. But it is different.
Twenty-two candidates have been cleared to compete for the country’s top seat in what the African Union says is a “landmark event.”
NEW GOVERNMENT SYSTEM
As part of efforts to rebuild the country from years of war, Somalia adopted a federal system of government with states led by regional presidents but which are autonomous to the government in the Capital, Mogadishu.
Still, certain regions like Puntland and Somaliland are yet to completely iron out their differences with Mogadishu, especially after the latter sought international recognition for sovereignty.
Sixteen of these candidates hold foreign passports, according to Wakiil, an online portal that aggregates information on the Somali elections.
They include incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and the man he replaced in 2012, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, both of who are said to hold Kenyan passports.
The list also includes nine American passport holders, four Britons and three Canadians. These spread of foreign nationality also reflects where the Somali diaspora resides. Following the fall of despot Siad Barre in 1991, many Somalis fled to Kenya, Ethiopia, US, Britain, Australia Canada and the Scandinavian countries.
In this election, the frontrunners are the incumbent Mr Mohamud, a hitherto businessman based in Nairobi, Mr Ahmed who was once a Sufi Islamic religious scholar before being president in 2009 and current Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke who once served as Somalia’s envoy to the US.
There are other candidates, too, such as Mr Abdirahim Abdishakur Warsame, the former Planning Minister who signed the controversial MoU with Kenya in 2009 on how to resolve the maritime dispute between the two countries.
Others are American national Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, a former Prime Minister under Mr Mohamud, former Finance Minister and Speaker of Parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aadan who served as Ahmed’s Premier, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmajo’ (another former Prime Minister and diplomat who also holds American citizenship).
THE LIST GOES ON
The list includes, military engineer Lt-Col Abdirahman Abdullahi Baadiyow who has also been a vocal activist and holds both Somali and Canadian nationalities, Mr Yusuf Garaad Omar, a British-Somali multilingual journalist who was once director of the BBC Somali Service.
The list goes on, including Ali Mohamed Gedi, who served as Prime Minister under the inaugural Somalia Transitional Federal government of the late Abdullahi Yusuf between 2004 and 2007, Ahmed Ismail Smatar, a dual Somali-American national and academic who is the current leader of the Hiil Qaran party.
Foreign citizenship is not a barrier to contesting. Article 88 of the Transitional Federal Constitution says a candidate must be “Somali citizen and a Muslim” of sound mind, who has sufficient knowledge of presidency and 40 years or older. It says nothing about foreign citizenship and does not even define how one should acquire Somali nationality.
According to procedure, the President is to be elected by the Federal Parliament which is made up of 329 MPs.
The Parliament is split into two; the House of the People which has 275 members and the Senate which has 84 members.
In total, there are 35 women in here, a big achievement considering Somalia’s background as a clan-based political system.
All these MPs must be present and each of these MPs will cast a secret ballot to elect the President. The winner must get two thirds majority.
If after the first round the winner does not emerge, the two best performers square it out with the winner only declared with a simple majority.
TOUGH BATTLE FOR INCUMBENTS
But Somalia is unique too. Somalia’s journey back to democracy shows that incumbents are rarely elected.
In fact no sitting President has defended the seat since 2004 when the Transitional Federal Government was launched.
Though this election is by secret ballot, the MPs are mostly elected through clan delegates, meaning they are hardly going to choose leaders independent of their clan’s choice.
In fact there have been allegations of voter buying and general buy-out of candidates to drop off. One candidate from the initial 24 dropped from the race.
During the election today, other may quit before the ballot or be eliminated for getting too few votes.