MOGADISHU– Thousands of Somalis fired guns in the air, cheered atop military vehicles and slaughtered camels on Thursday to celebrate the election of anti-corruption campaigner Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as president.
Protected from Islamist attack inside the heavily fortified airport compound, lawmakers voted on Wednesday to elect the former U.S. state worker, beating incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mohamud whose government repeatedly faced corruption scandals.
“Please fight corruption as you promised when you were campaigning for president,” said Mohamed Jamaa, a resident of Mogadishu, who had joined crowds in the capital.
Western donors welcomed his election. The European Union urged him to tackle corruption, while the United States called the transition a “step forward” despite concerns about irregularities. Opponents had accused each other of vote buying.
In the central Somali towns of Dhusamareb and Guriel, a region where many are now facing a severe food crisis because of drought, the local authorities slaughtered camels and goats to hand out the meat to the poor.
Mohamed, a former prime minister better known in Somalia by his nickname “Farmajo” due to his love of cheese as a child, told lawmakers shortly after his election that his “core value is justice, to help the poor people”.
But the dual U.S.-Somali citizen, who worked for years in the New York State Department of Transport, faces an uphill task. The aid-dependent state faces an imminent food crisis, empty coffers and an Islamist insurgency.
Abdirashid Hashi, an political analyst who worked in Mohamed’s cabinet when he was prime minister between 2010 and 2011, called him “a populist politician, saying all the right stuff the demoralized citizens of Somalia want to hear.”
“His detractors charge that it is a bit naive thinking that populism can undo Somalia’s quarter-century quagmire,” he said. “Somalia’s problems are much bigger than one individual.”
Soldiers and members of the security forces at the sharp end of the fight against al Shabaab militants are among the most worryingly demoralised parts of society, constantly complaining that meagre salaries are often delayed or not even paid.
Some remember fondly the new president’s period as prime minister, when they say wages were paid on time.
“We never missed one month’s salary when Farmajo was prime minister,” said Colonel Ali Abdirahman, a senior police officer.
The new president said he planned to get down to work immediately. When he left the airport on Wednesday night, he told cheering crowds to return to the safety of their homes in a city that is often attacked by al Shabaab militants.