When Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo was elected president of Somalia on Wednesday night, Somalis across the country and in the diaspora were jubilant. Mass celebrations erupted across the country, stretching well into the early hours of the morning as tens of thousands poured into the streets of the capital Mogadishu and cities and towns throughout the country.
Admired for his honesty, anti-curroption stance, and technocratic background, Farmaajo is widely respected in Somalia and enjoys widespread cross-tribal support in the deeply divided nation (where he previously served as prime minister).
Farmaajo was not expected by analysts to win the election. He was an underdog who did not have the money and carefully cultivated patronage networks of his rivals, which included the incumbent president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud who was said to have had accumulated a $12,000,000 warchest—mostly used to bribe MPs—and the backing of powerful interest groups, such as neighboring Ethiopia which often plays kingmaker in Somali politics.
But on Wednesday Farmaajo did the implausible and won, defeating Mohamud in a landslide 184 to 97 in the second-round of voting inside a heavily guarded facility near Mogadishu’s airport. Because of ongoing insecurity in the country, nation-wide voting did not incur and instead the president was elected by members of the Somali parliament who were themselves chosen by 14,000 traditional leaders.
— Michael Keating (@SRSGKeating) February 8, 2017
In explaining Farmaajo’s victory, many observers cited the substantially increased representation of female MPs in the nation’s parliament. Because of a gender quota, women now make up 25% of the Somali parliament—a figure that makes that body more gender diverse than the United States Congress—and the plan is to up that number to at least 30% by 2020. Speaking to Somali media on the day of the election, the U.N Special Representative in Somalia, Michael Keating, said that the increased number of female parliamentarians would lead to political change in the country and that “things will not go backwards.”
Although blind-voting ensured that nobody knew who Somali parliamentarians voted for, observers present at the venue stated that the female vote broke decisively for Farmaajo, the ‘candidate of change,’ who was opposed primarily by a corrupt elite class that had grown rich and powerful profiting from decades of tribal conflict in the country. Somali female parliamentarians were said to be less motivated by tribal political calculations and bribe money and voted for whom they thought best at bringing about peace and reconciliation in the country.
Newly elected, and with his inauguration scheduled to take place on February 22nd, President-elect Farmaajo has much gratitude for the women who helped elect him, and he is expected to make women an important part of his cabinet in this deeply patriarchal society. Before entering Somali politics, Farmaajo, who is a dual U.S-Somali citizen, worked for state government in New York.