Feb 13, 2017

Somalia’s ‘Mr Cheese’ president has a lot on his plate

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Somalia has a new, apparently popular president. His main challenges include making federalism work, reducing corruption and improving security.

Somalia’s complicated electoral process is finally complete and the country’s new big cheese has his work cut out.

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed – known by the nickname Farmajo – is a technocrat, a former prime minister who served just eight months in office, but is a popular choice judging from the response to his victory on the streets.

There was celebratory gunfire punctuating the night sky across Mogadishu, as the results from the secured voting hall at the highly fortified airport were broadcast to the nation.

His nickname (derived from the Italian word for cheese – formaggio) was apparently inherited from his father rather than from a childhood love of Italian cheese as has been reported, but that’s perhaps a question for his first news conference.

Mr Farmajo wasn’t favourite to win the presidential election – in some quarters he was one of the least fancied of the main contenders.

Somalis may share one ethnicity, language and religion, but years of war have hardened the domination of society and politics by a complex family tree of clans, sub-clans, and sub-sub clans, and the differing loyalties and rivalries between them.

Members of the Hawiye clan have dominated political leadership in Mogadishu for many years, and although presidents in Somalia don’t tend to win second terms in office, another Hawiye choice was available.

By selecting a Darod from the more northern regions of Somalia, MPs from the upper and lower houses decided to vote for even greater change.

Having joint American and Somali nationality, Mr Mohamed returned from the US only last year to announce his candidacy.

He was first posted to the Somali embassy in Washington in the 1980s and was studying in the US when the civil war started in 1991 and he claimed political asylum.


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