Great expectations await Somalia’s new prime minister

Published: December 20, 2014

Somali News Omar Abdirashid
Somalia’s newly appointed Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke (right) listens as President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud announces his appointment in Mogadishu on December 17, 2014. [Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP]
Somali politicians and pundits have welcomed the appointment of Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke as the nation’s next prime minister, calling him a leader with the temperament and experience to move the country forward.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud tapped Sharmarke for the post Wednesday (December 17th), only ten days after lawmakers ousted Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed with a controversial no-confidence vote.

If confirmed, this will be Sharmarke’s second term as prime minister. He previously served in that capacity from February 2009 to September 2010 under Transitional Federal Government President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. Since last July, Sharmarke has served as Somalia’s ambassador to the United States.

“Ambassador Omar Abdirashid is someone who is well known and regarded throughout Somalia. He is knowledgeable and with considerable work experience as he previously held the position of prime minister,” Mohamud told reporters at the announcement.

The president urged Sharmarke to, upon parliamentary confirmation, act swiftly to build a new government and meet the country’s development and security goals.

“I have full faith that Ambassador Omar will not rest until all of Somalia achieves security, stability and progress,” he said.

Sharmarke’s appointment has been received well throughout Somalia.

Fatigued by the toxic political climate that engulfed Mogadishu, stakeholders are now saying they feel optimistic that Sharmarke’s experience and relationships with domestic and international leaders will help him quickly move through the confirmation process, build a new government and tackle Somalia’s many challenges.

“With the highest regard and consideration for Somalia’s peace and politics, and supporting all efforts [that allow] Somalis to overcome political conflict and chaos, the Puntland government wholeheartedly welcomes the appointment of Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke,” said a statement from the office of Puntland state President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, adding that nominee is well qualified for the position.

Learning from past experience

“Parliament revoked its vote of confidence from former Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed because for the last three months [his] government had performed poorly due to the political crisis,” outgoing Minister of Youth and Sports Khalid Omar Ali told Dalsan Radio.

“Thanks to God, now a new prime minister has been appointed and he is not a newcomer,” Ali said, underscoring Sharmarke’s inside knowledge of Mogadishu politics.

“[Sharmarke] is the right person named at the right time,” lawmaker Abdilatif Muse Nur Sanyare told the outlet. “The Somali people and the international community know him well and he is someone we expect will do well and bring progress.”

Sharmarke has learned from his previous experience and has the right temperament to navigate Somalia’s political environment, said Dahir Mohamud Gelle, who served in Sharmarke’s cabinet in 2009.

“I know his politics well, he is not a confrontational man,” Gelle told Sabahi. “He is a man who understands the monumental task before him, starting with ensuring the country holds an election where the public can vote.”

In addition, having served at the height of Mogadishu’s insecurity and helping to rebuild the country’s security apparatus from scratch, Sharmarke understands the existing security challenges and how to overcome them, he said.

“He worked [in Mogadishu] at a time when nothing was in place and the government had just relocated from Djibouti where it was formed,” Gelle said. “There were no government institutions in place. There were no police, military or intelligence forces. This is the man who laid the foundation for all of that.”

The situation has improved considerably since 2010, when Sharmarke stepped down as prime minister, and now he has a new opportunity to make his mark, he added.

Managing expectations

Gelle said the first challenge he will have to overcome is selecting a new cabinet while managing expectations from various stakeholders.

“Various political [stakeholders] will have to be consulted as he names his government in order to avoid another political conflict,” he said.

“The prime minister has a lot of work to do, including putting together a competent government that addresses security, completing the constitution and creating federal state administrations so that Vision 2016 can be achieved,” said former Deputy Minister of Information, Posts and Telecommunications Abdishakur Ali Mire, who served under former Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon.

“Sharmarke did not exit the Somali political arena after he resigned from his post [in 2010],” Mire told Sabahi, adding that his political allies will be instrumental in helping him move the national agenda forward. “I am not very worried about parliament not confirming his appointment.”

But Daud Osman, a senior researcher and political analyst at the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, said the biggest tasks facing Sharmarke will be quickly forming a competent cabinet representative of the Somali public and getting it confirmed through a divided parliament.

“Members of the cabinet he is forming have to be individuals who are qualified for the jobs they are assigned to, and [he must] not engage in nepotism as was the norm in previous administrations,” he told Sabahi.

It will be tricky to do all of that without angering lawmakers who supported the dismissal of his predecessor and who might expect political favours in return, Osman said, while at the same time, Sharmarke will have to court the lawmakers who supported Prime Minister Ahmed in order to secure their allegiance.

Once that hurdle is passed, the new government will have to work hard in order to meet all of the Vision 2016 goals and prepare Somalia for its first free general election in decades, he said.

Sharmarke will have 30 days to select his cabinet after he is confirmed by parliament.

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