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New Somali president survives terrorist attack, faces daunting job

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was not injured in today's suicide bombings, but the attacks may be representative of some of the many challenges he'll face in leading Somalia.

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The new president’s very detachment from Somalia’s political scene could work in his favor. Many ordinary Somalis took to Twitter, Facebook, and local radio stations to voice their seemingly unanimous support for Mohamud as someone they related to as a nonpolitician, and someone less connected to the violence that has plagued the country over the past 20 years. 

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High among reasons for his popularity is that he chose not to flee into the diaspora during Somalia’s civil war.

Instead, Mohamud stayed home and built a reputation of deep competence as a civil activist and cofounder of one of Somalia’s leading universities, the Somali Institute of Management and Administrative Development.

Its alumni are power players across Somalia, and from across its clans, and Mohamud may soon be calling on some of them to help form a technocratic, rather than clan-based, government. 

“These are the good points,” Mr. Soliman says. “But he’ll have to work incredibly hard not to be dragged down by the Somali political scene, elements of which will already be working against him because he’s kicked their man out.”

Tackling corruption, moving forward

A recent UN report estimated that $7 of every $10 international aid sent to Somalia’s state institutions between 2009 and 2010 ended up in a politician's pocket.

With no government tax system in place, a commercial marketplace in its infancy, and few natural resources beyond exporting livestock to the Gulf, looting donor cash is an easy way for those with access to get rich quick.

Implicit in congratulatory messages sent to Mohamud by world leaders including Hillary Rodham Clinton, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was that tackling corruption must be a top priority.

For ordinary Somalis, however, the new president must focus on resolving immediate problems like hunger and insecurity.

The UN said Tuesday that 2.1 million people in the country still need urgent food aid, down 16 percent from the desperate figures of this time last year, but still a huge number.

Al Shabab is on the defensive after losing a series of key towns to African Union coalition forces, but continues to rule vast tracts of rural south-central Somalia. Where in control, the group governs with a strong arm, but with consistent rules and without corruption, which can make them appealing to some.

“There are very few of them, we think, who would choose Shabab as their leaders if there was an open vote,” says one Western diplomat covering Somalia from neighboring Kenya. “But compared to the complete lack of any administration, services, or contact with the government in Mogadishu, Shabab does fill a vacuum.

“Mohamud is going to have to start showing he’ll provide an alternative to that if he’s to make progress,” the diplomat says.

To do that, Mohamud needs the continued support of the international community, which will remain his future government’s paymaster.

Ms. Clinton said in her statement Tuesday that while “there is more work to be done”, the United States was “committed to helping the new government … deliver results for the Somali people.” 

Many hope Mohamud can ride the enormous goodwill he's garnered from the election for several months.

“We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves,” cautions Soliman, the think tank analyst, “but Mohamud is a serious candidate who can make serious progress, as long as both international and internal actors give him the chance.”

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