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Africa

New president, old problems in Somalia

The election of a new president is supposed to end violence and anarchy in Somalia. But the war-torn country is still dogged by violence and corruption, and experts don't expect that to change any time soon.

With Hassan Sheikh Mohamud now at the helm of Somalia, a sigh of relief can be expected from UN headquarters in New York all the way to Mogadishu. Many observers had feared the latest attempt to form a government had failed after lawmakers missed the August 20 deadline to elect a new head of state. Apparently it was the United States that forced the members of parliament to give in and carry out the election. The vote of Somali MPs marks the end of the agonizing transitional period to set up a new administration.

Bribes are all too common

Questions however remain whether the administration can make a difference in the country that has been without a functioning government for more than 20 years. The parliamentary election last month was seen as a test run for the presidential elections. The polls however revealed that many of the chronic ills of Somali politics are still alive and well. Many members of parliament reportedly did not get a seat because of their abilities, but because of "brown envelopes" - bribes of about $60,000 (47,000 euros) each.

New Somali parliamentarians pray during an inauguration ceremony for members of Somalia's first parliament in 20 years (photo: REUTERS/Stuart Price)

Members of Somalia's parliament are said to have paid bribes

Legal expert Mohamed Osman Jawari was subsequently elected speaker - a post that traditionally carries much weight in Somalia. He is one of the experts tasked with drafting the new constitution. Many experts however doubt that the current draft is acceptable to the majority of Somalis.

"Most of the key issues raised in the draft such as federalism or the role of Islam in Somali politics have been edged out," Roland Marchal of the Center for International Studies and Research in Paris told DW. Instead, the new parliament has to debate these issues again from scratch. "After eight years of negotiations, you can hardly call that a success," Marchal said.

A helpless international community

The troubled transitional process shows how helpless the international community still is in Somalia. The UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) was supposed to moderate the process. But the office is mired in so many disputes that Somalis called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to sack his special representative to the country, Augustine Mahiga.

At the same time, many Somalis doubt the motives of the international community. They fear that countries such as Norway are more interested in the country's fish grounds or recent oil finds than in establishing a functioning government. Many observers fear that large parts of the population will lack trust in the new government set up with assistance from the international community.

Campaigning, Somalia style

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (photo: REUTERS/Omar Faruk)

The UN has accused former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed of corruption

In the last days and weeks, contenders for the presidential post met regularly amidst the hustle and bustle of Somalia's capital Mogadishu to forge alliances. Just like before, ethnicity mattered more than ideology in these campaigns. 25 candidates had registered as candidates by September 7, which marked the official deadline. They included former prime ministers, business men and academics. Even the head of the BBC's Somali Service decided to leave his desk in London in favor of a campaign office in Mogadishu. On the weekend, the candidates officially introduced themselves to parliament. Sunday was their official campaigning day.

Most of the candidates are familiar faces in Somali politics. Many observers doubt that they stand for a new beginning in the war-torn nation. "There are two many cooks in the kitchen that are not trained to cook in the first place," Somalia expert Markus Höhne from the Max-Planck-Institute told DW.

Somalia's previous transitional governments have also failed to raise hope that Somali politics have changed for the better in recent times. Previous president Sharif Sheikh Admed had headed a corrupt and inefficient administration since 2009. A leaked UN report accuses his government of "systematic embezzlement, pure and simple misappropriation of funds and theft of public money." Between 2009 and 2010, the government stole seven out of every ten dollars of public funds. Besides corruption, observers are also deeply worried about the country's human rights situation. Germany's Society for Threatened Peoples calls it "disastrous."

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