A Glimmer of Hope for Somalia and the Peace and Stability of East Africa
February 21, 2008

Nicholas Bwakira, the African Union’s special envoy to Somalia, “appealed to the international community for sustained diplomatic and political support for efforts to establish a stable administration in Somalia,” according to a report by Peter Heinlein for the Voice of America. The special envoy also noted that the recently elected president of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, has assured him that the government that the president is in the process of forming would be a secular government.

Even though Somalia has a long recorded history, including trading with Roman and Greek sailors that pre-date the expansion of Islam to East Africa, its age old and well established cultural undercurrent has found a spotlight in the international media after the country became an example of a failed state since the ouster from power of the government of Siad Barre in 1991. Referred to as a “clan culture” in the media, during the last nearly two decades, this well established cultural undercurrent seemed to be at loggerheads with the faith tradition that the Somalis received several centuries ago, so much so that at times it seemed that the country was turned into a battleground between what is of the Somalis and what the Somalis received. The current president himself may have been caught in this battle when he found himself leading by what the Somalis received to bring back peace and stability to Somalia while at the same time finding it difficult, naturally, to distance himself from what is of the Somalis. The recent political developments in Somalia in general and President Ahmed’s recent involvements and latest pronouncements in particular seem to indicate that the latter is poised to win.

Within the last four years, however weak it may have been, Somalia has seen three Prime Ministers (Ali Mohammed Ghedi, Nur Hassan Hussein, and Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke) and two Presidents (Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed). This has happened at a rate that far surpassed that of the more stable neighbor Ethiopia. Interestingly, despite the battles and Somalia being a battleground for too long, there was a peaceful transfer of power in each of these two most important political offices in Somalia. The number of such peaceful transfer of power in such a short period of time may be one of the speediest in the world’s political history. This only signifies the importance of the age old and well established cultural undercurrent of the Somali people and their kith and kin in the region. Arguably, much of the rest of the world can learn something from it to the extent that the bowing down of individual political leaders, however influential they may be or perceive themselves to be, to the importance of a peaceful transfer of political power in the interest of their society and country’s future.

President Ahmed was elected in Djibouti on January 31, 2009, in what is reported to be a democratic voting process, and sworn in the same day in Kempinski Hotel in the same country. Since his election, he has taken several steps. He first flew to Ethiopia to participate in an African Union summit, where he received a standing ovation. His group had threatened Ethiopia about two years ago before it was routed with the support of Ethiopia to the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. He later surrendered in Kenya.

After all the dust settles down and Somalia and the Somalis see a sign of hope, President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s pledge to lead a secular government in Somalia is a glimmer of hope for Somalia and the peace and stability of East Africa. It would be a virtuous achievement for Somalia if President Ahmed could put down all the labels and blames he has been receiving and manages to bring about a renewed era for his people and country.