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New Somali prime minister sworn in, vowing reform

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Feisal Omar/Reuters

(Read caption) Somalia's President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed addresses officials following the swearing in of the newly-appointed Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed at the presidential residence in the capital Mogadishu on Nov. 1, 2010. Abdullahi Mohamed said on Monday tackling the rampant insecurity in the failed Horn of Africa state would be his top priority, but deadly street-battles in the capital underscored the task ahead.

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Yesterday Somalia’s parliament approved Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as the country’s new prime minister. The vote followed a dispute between President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden over whether lawmakers should cast ballots openly (Sheikh Ahmed’s view) or secretly (Sheikh Aden’s). This weekend the two leaders agreed to hold an open vote, an apparent victory for the president. As Reuters says, the procedural issue merely reflected a larger power struggle between factions inside the government (as well as a proxy fight for influence between domestic and Ethiopian elements?), and likely the contest will continue.

Reuters also says that the parliament voted “overwhelmingly” for Mohamed, but that’s debatable: he scored 297 votes out of 392 members present. If around one-quarter of lawmakers were willing to reject him in an open format, how many more would have done so in a secret vote? Support for or opposition to Mohamed does not necessarily correspond to allegiance to either Sheikh Ahmed or Sheikh Aden, but as I’ve said before, Mohamed enters his new position already undermined by the fact that large factions of the government opposed his appointment, and by the spectacle of a government that lost valuable time wrangling over how to fill a key post.

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The New York Times reports on what lies ahead for Mohamed and Somalia:

“We will move with full speed to do the people’s business,” Mr. Mohamed said Sunday. “I will very soon form an effective and dedicated cabinet that will put the Somali people first.”

President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who nominated Mr. Mohamed for the post last month, called the action a vote “for change and renewal.”

“This is a great day for Somalia,” he said, and he called on Somalis and the international community “to cooperate and collaborate with the new prime minister and his team.”

[...]

Mogadishu residents have largely welcomed Mr. Mohamed, hopeful that he will be able to lead the country out of a morass.

Mohamed is starting off in a reformer role, assembling a smaller cabinet than that of his predecessor. Once that is finished, and now that the internal government conflicts about his appointment are officially over (though likely maneuvering will continue behind the scenes, for and against him), it will be interesting to see what he does next to deal with the conflicts in Somalia as a whole.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student of Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and he blogs at Sahel Blog.