Exciting finale as Somalia winds down transitional governmentBy ABDULKADIR KHALIF in Mogadishu | Saturday, August 18 2012 at 17:41
As Somali's transitional government winds down its fitful term, excited electioneering, not factional fighting, is very much the flavour of the hour for the war-weary country.
"Here is a public notice on the merits of presidential candidate Y," is a now common type of advertisement heard on many FM radio stations in the capital Mogadishu on prime time.
And with close to 70 declared presidential hopefuls, business is booming for the twenty-odd broadcasters in the city, with the unmistakeable buzz of election time apparent as the war-weary country counts down the hours to a permanent government.
A roadmap heavily backed by international donors provided for the end of the current Transitional Federal Government's term by August 20. Elections however will not be universal, with a 275-member new parliament picking the next President, but this has not dampened raucous public campaigning.
Current TFG President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and his premier Abdiweli Mohamed Ali are some of the slew of candidates in the running, battling a lengthy list that counts former premiers and cabinet ministers, business tycoons and diaspora hopefuls.
Prof Ali has creatively employed Baraanbur, Guuroow and other dialects to hype up his campaign, while the aggressive pitch of the incumbent President Ahmed would make US President Barack Obama's campaign proud.
Mr Mohamoud Hassan Omar, the chief editor of Calayaale.com, a largely Somali news website, sums up the general mood: "It is an exciting experience that nearly 70 candidates have submitted their candidacy. Most media houses are [also] making good business."
Peak time on Shabelle, Kulmiye, Mustaqbal or Banadir radios, to mention a few, is awash with campaign messages as candidates leave nothing to chance to make sure they get to Villa Somalia, the country's state house.
Carefully chosen presenters add flavour to the candidates manifestos as they employ flowery language and almost poetic verses to play up the aspirant's unique qualities.
Aptly chosen Radio or TV presenters are doing their best to add flavour to the candidates’ manifestos, employing colourful words and almost poetic verses to present the contenders’ unique qualities to become President.
Educational qualifications and past experiences, especially career development are particularly highlighted. Holding PhDs, professorial jobs, community leaderships or socially connected works like health work experience appear to be a plus.
"I can do this and that for you is what we hear every day," Mr Yahie Sufi, a keen radio listener in Mogadishu told the Africa Review, but added that it was good to know more about the candidates.
The streets are lined with posters, with cars and any available wall not being spared of memorable slogans either.
Pride of place
President Ahmed's dalkeena ninkii difaacee, dayactiraa la dooraha (the defender and rebuilder of our country will be elected) occupy pride of place on Mogadishu's newly installed solar-powered street lights, while the campaign of Mr Abdurahman Abdishakur Warsame, a former TFG minister for planning and international relations has remodelled minibuses to carry his message boards.
Speeches and catchy music have been employed to advertise candidates like Prof Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, an educator, and al-Haji Mohamed Yassin, a cleric playing up his moral standing.
Former prime minister Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo has been using a more unique style. His promoters have been organising crowd-pulling street parades in keeping with a populist inclination.
Other candidates have been more measured, preferring hotel meeting halls and these include incumbent premier Abdiweli Ali and Mr Salad Ali Jelle, a member of the outgoing parliament.
Alliances are also in vogue. At least 13 candidates including US-based Somali dons like Dr Ahmed Mumin Warfa and Dr Ahmed Ismael Samatar recently formed an association in a bid to counter the big boys such as PM Ali and President Ahmed.
This group has seemed content with occasional press statements. "We trust in unity of purpose within diversity," Prof Samatar said, emphasising that individual aspirations of the candidates was more important and as the coalition members recognises more similarities, a single candidate may be endorsed.
Newcomers to the race include Mr Zakariye Mohamoud Haji, the leader of the Eritrea-based Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) that influences Somali politics from its office in Asmara, who declared his presidential candidacy Wednesday.
His candidature has surprised many, as ARS has in the past maintained that the TFG was illegally established. "I have the powers to unite Somalis if elected president," Mr Zakariya told the media in Mogadishu.
The appetite for Villa Somalia is so strong that it has even attracted a renowned media professional. The Chief Editor of BBC's Somali Service, Mr Yusuf Garad Omar, reportedly quit a position he held with the giant media house in London for nearly two decades and returned to Mogadishu.
On Wednesday, Mr Omar declared his candidacy saying, “I will concentrate on taking care of the wellbeing of the security personnel in Somalia.” He added that no single soldier or police officer would miss their salary and benefits under his rule.
The latest to join the contest are two daring women in a field dominated by men. They are Ms Asha Ahmed Abdalla, a long term MP who also contested in the first TFG’s presidential race in Nairobi, Kenya in October 2004. She was among two dozen hopefuls who lost to Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.
The other is Ms Amal Abdi Ibrahim, a Diaspora Somali who lived in Finland over the past twenty years. “If elected, I will fight for widows of war and single mothers," said Ms Amal.
Opinion among residents interviewed is also as diverse as the candidates.
Mr Aidarous Ahmed Hassan, the chief executive of Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Services (RAS), a business entity in Mogadishu, is of the opinion that having links with the regional leaders is an added bonus.
"We have to realise that Somalia is getting substantial support, chiefly military assistance from neighbouring countries,” said Mr Hassan, an engineers, and added that the next leader must assure his regional counterparts that Somalia’s problems will not spill over to Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
Mr Omar, the chief editor of Calayaale.com, said that he was happy that after 22 years of incessant conflicts in Mogadishu an election would take place. "The intensity of the campaign is a prototype of what is going to come with a one-man-one-vote in four years time."
The raft of announcements of presidential candidacies skyrocketed when a provisional constitution was adopted by a constituent assembly in Mogadishu on August 1 as part of a major step in the roadmap.
The process still enjoys the support of the international community. Mrs Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, was among the first world officials to hail the adoption of the provisional constitution for Somalia. The UN, AU and IGAD have been keenly watching the end of the Roadmap process.
Dr Augustine Phillip Mahiga, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy to Somalia, has appeared the main man pushing for the end of the transition in the smoothest way possible.
On August 5 Dr Mahiga met the traditional clan elders mandated to choose the MPs in Mogadishu and warned against intimidation (by unnamed parties) over the selection of members for the new House, urging the leaders to discharge their responsibilities carefully.
"A lot of trust is being put in the elders by Somalis,” said Dr Mahiga.
So important is the process that on Thursday, Ambassador Mahiga met the elders again. He urged them to pass on the names of those selected as legislators within the coming 24 hours, emphasising the need to meet the deadline to have a parliament with the necessary quorum by August 20.
Somalis and the rest of the international community interested in the country's affairs are keenly looking forward to a good selection of parliamentarians and a free and fair election in the new federal parliament.
But whoever wins the contest, the task awaiting their new team in the rebuilding of a dignified Somali nation and state is elephantine.
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Beyond the ballot