After 18 years of civil war, some good news is finally coming from Somalia. The recent election of Sharif Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, as Somalia’s new president brings the country a chance for peace and stability. But the country faces enormous problems and President Ahmed has a mammoth task on his hands — both domestically and internationally.
Perhaps the biggest challenges lay within Somalia’s own borders. Considered as a failed state since the early 1990s, Somalia has seen its worst spate of violence in decades over the past two years: Ethiopian troops invaded the country, at least 10,000 Somalis have been killed and more than one million displaced.
Much of this bloodshed and displacement comes from the poor security conditions and widespread lawlessness spawned by fighting between rival warlords, clans and other armed groups. This lack of national security poses a huge problem for Ahmed’s nascent presidency: Somalia’s two main insurgent groups, Hezbul Islam and Al-Shabaab, control “much of the south of the country” and refuse to recognize the election. Getting Somalia’s clans behind a centralized government is a task that previous Somali leaders have failed to meet.
In a country that has no almost running water or electricity, Ahmed also has numerous humanitarian challenges. The Red Cross considers Somalia's food crisis to be one of the worst in the world. And the country's infrastructure, already-limited agricultural systems and market linkages, has been severely damaged during the continuous internal conflict of past decades. As a result, more than a third of the population depends on food aid. Health care has also been decimated: Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital city of 3.6 million people has only two or three hospitals that barely operate at all.
Providing this critical food and health care will be very difficult, however, until some form of security is established. The government must find a way to ensure that youth have the education and economic opportunities they need so that they have less incentive to take a $15-a-day paycheck to join one of armed groups. But the already-precarious education gap is widening: at least 81 percent of Somalia's population is now illiterate — the highest such rate in Africa — and only 17 percent of Somali children go to school.
A moderate new government headed by an energetic and idealistic president has succeeded in giving Somalis hope — but delivering results is crucial to showing the country’s embattled population that their government is actually making a difference.