Friday, March 01, 2013
Breakfasting on porridge, vegetables and goat liver, Somalia's
president listens attentively to his advisors -- a new day is starting
for the man tasked with rebuilding his country ravaged by years of war.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud during an interview with AFP at Mogadishu's
Presidential Palace on February 26, 2013 (AFP/File, Abdurashid Abdulle
is almost six months since Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a former professor
and virtual newcomer to the political scene, was elected president by
the new parliament.
Since his surprise election he has governed the part of the country under his control with a small team of advisors.
morning he is scolding the team for their "lack of preparation" the
previous day when ambassadors from five European countries presented
credentials and a microphone failed to work.
"If something does not work, there must be an immediate backup," Hassan said.
advisors keep their eyes fixed on their plates in the dining room of
Villa Somalia, the elegant art deco presidential palace built under
Italian colonial rule.
A microphone that conks out may seem like a
minor detail in a country where hundreds of thousands have perished in
the war and tens of thousands in famine, but for Hassan, seeking to
"re-lay the foundations of the state" the devil is in the detail.
The conversation turns to domestic politics.
flashy computer open in front of him, Malik Abdalla, the young man in
charge of communications, reads a rambling statement by the Shebab
Islamists in which they distance themselves from a former comrade in
arms, Al Amriki or the American, a militant who came from Alabama to
fight in Somalia.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (L) and an advisor (R) at the Presidential Palace
in Mogadishu on February 26, 2013 (AFP/File, Abdurashid Abdulle Abikar)
"They want to send a message to their financers that the Shebab are one," Abdalla analyses.
years ago, the same Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists controlled most of the
capital Mogadishu, launching regular attacks on the tiny government
foothold of Villa Somalia.
Since then the Shebab have been expelled from all major urban strongholds by a 17,000-strong African Union force.
The Shebab sent suicide bombers against Hassan, barely two days after his election, but he survived the attack.
To get close to the presidential palace visitors have to zigzag their way through a series of road blocks.
sharp comment about the failed microphone is Hassan's only flash of bad
temper. He comes across as an affable man, with a round face and small
beard, who seems willing to listen.
Hassan, 57, who has a
background in working with civil society groups, tells diplomats and UN
officials in good English that what he really wants is help with nation
Since his election Hassan spends most of his time at
Villa Somalia -- where his two wives have a separate house -- or outside
the country, in London, Brussels or Washington.
inside Somalia has allowed him to make two trips out of Mogadishu, to
former Shebab-held bases in the towns of Beledweyn and Baidoa.
Mogadishu itself has come back to life, and from the roof of Villa Somalia new buildings can be seen under construction.
year ago we couldn't have stood here because of the snipers," a
security agent tells visitors, as they look out at the city at their
But security remains a concern, and foreign diplomats wear
flak jackets and helmets and travel in armoured vehicles for the short
journey to Villa Somalia.
Mogadishu has been rocked by half a dozen attacks in the space of six months.
Shador, a young presidency official driving back to the airport, is
proud to point out that he is "driving a normal car and not wearing a
He weaves his way between the street sellers, and
points out what is quite an event in a town that was for so long a no-go
zone: the beginnings of a traffic jam, hailed with a flurry of hooting.