Somalia handed Hassan Sheikh Mohamud the presidency for a second time following Sunday's long-overdue election in the troubled Horn of Africa nation, which is confronting an Islamist insurgency and the threat of famine.
The 66-year-old, who ruled from 2012 to 2017, reversed the previous election defeat to incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed by 214-110 votes in a third-round runoff.
Supporters of Somalia’s new leader defied the curfew to pour onto the streets of Mogadishu, cheering and firing guns as it became clear that Mohamud had won the vote. Many hope the election will draw a line under a political crisis that has lasted well over a year, after Mohamed’s term ended in February 2021 without an election.
"It is indeed commendable that the president is here standing by my side. We have to move ahead; we do not need grudges. No avenging," Mohamud said in his acceptance speech from the airport compound in the capital Mogadishu patrolled by African Union (AU) peacekeepers.
Mohamud had promised during campaigning that his government would be inclusive, acknowledging the mistakes of his previous government, which faced multiple corruption allegations and was seen as aloof to the concerns of rival groups.
The former education campaigner and peace activist faces a daunting task. Somalia is facing its worst drought in decades and grapples with high costs of living and a resurgent Al-Shabaab Islamist sect that continues to launch lethal attacks across swathes of the country, including the capital Mogadishu.
The heavily indebted country is also at risk of losing access to a three-year $400 million aid package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is set to automatically expire by mid-May if a new administration is not in place by then. The government has asked for a three-month extension until August 17, according to the IMF, which has not yet responded to the request.
Though just holding the election was a success of sorts, many Somalis were sceptical of any real improvement. Most of the 36 candidates were old faces recycled from the past who had done little to stem war and corruption, they complained. Votes are anyway influenced more by money changing hands than political platforms, Somalis and analysts say.
Somalia has endured conflict and clan battles with no strong central government since the fall of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The government has little control beyond the capital and the AU contingent guards an Iraq-style “Green Zone”. Twin suicide bombings in March killed 48 people in central Somalia, including two local lawmakers.