Somalia Chooses A New President Under Heavy Security
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A place without much of a functioning government is choosing a president today. We're talking about Somalia, which has suffered from civil war and terrorism for more than two decades. NPR's Eyder Peralta covers East Africa and he joins us from his base in Nairobi. Good morning, Eyder.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: All right, it's election day on the ground in Somalia. Can you give us a sense of what's happening there now?
PERALTA: So this is not the kind of elections that we're used to because the president is being elected by Parliament. And there's more than 20 candidates running for president. And also this is all happening at the airport in Mogadishu because it's considered the most secure place in the capital. And right now actually the city is on lockdown. Traffic is banned on major roads. However, that still did not stop an attack yesterday which was blamed on extremists, al-Shabab, which is a constant threat there in Mogadishu and across Somalia.
MARTIN: Can you tell us about the timing? Why is the election happening now?
PERALTA: Yeah. So this process has gone on in fits and starts. It was supposed to actually happen last summer and it's been delayed four different times. The security situation, corruption, political infighting made sure that the government wasn't ready to hold a nationwide election. And it was supposed to be a one-person-one-vote election, which is the kind that we're used to, but there was no way the government could do that.
However, that this is taking place is still remarkable. The process has involved more Somalis, and in particular more women than ever before. And it will put in place the final piece of Somalia's central government. And that's important because Somalia hasn't had a functioning central government since warlords overthrew the country's dictator 26 years ago.
MARTIN: So as you mentioned, this is not like we're used to seeing, people going to voting booths and casting a ballot. That's not this election. The parliament is selecting the president. So how likely is it that the country will respect the outcome?
PERALTA: Activists have been super critical of the process. You know, they say there's been widespread corruption and members of parliament have sold their vote. I spoke with Mohamed Mubarak with the anti-corruption group Marqaati and this is what he told me.
MOHAMED MUBARAK: Voter list manipulation was systematic and normal, and so was bribery. Votes could go from a couple of hundred dollars to $30,000.
MARTIN: Thirty thousand dollars.
PERALTA: Thirty thousand. And he's talking about the parliamentary elections. And he says that the presidential elections have actually been a lot worse and a lot more expensive. He says that Somalia's current president Hassan Mohamud has spent the most. And he says that he's used government funds to do so. But the MPs have told Mubarak that they've taken the president's money, but they won't vote for him.
MARTIN: So what does it mean if the current president Hassan Mohamud wins again? I mean, because he's got all this baggage, because he's accused of all this corruption. If this same process just puts him back into office, what does it say about the process?
PERALTA: So activists will tell you that that'll send the message that corruption still rules in Somalia. And of course the fear is that a lack of trust in the legitimacy of the central government could result in more destabilization. But the U.N. mission in Somalia which has driven this vote will probably tell you that this process has been a success mostly because it's involved a lot more Somalis and a lot more women than ever before. So it's a much more inclusive process.
MARTIN: NPR's Eyder Peralta speaking to us from his base in Nairobi, Kenya. Thanks so much, Eyder.
PERALTA: Thank you, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE SHAOLIN AFRONAUTS SONG, "TO THE WATER - INTERLUDE 2")
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