The year was 1978. Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, a senior military officer together with other high-ranking commanders were plotting the overthrow of President Siad Barre. The coup failed and many of the officers implicated in it were arrested and executed. Yusuf Ahmed escaped into neighbouring Ethiopia.
Over 26 years later, he has become president of the Federal Republic of Somalia, a war-ravaged country that has been without a central government since Barre's regime was eventually toppled in 1991. Fourteen years and 14 peace conferences later, Somalia now has a new president whom many believe can finally bring closure to the crippling conflict and insecurity of the last decade and a half.
Although not voted into office through national elections, Yusuf Ahmed was endorsed by 270 of the 275 members of the recently-assembled Somali parliament at a special ceremony in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The security situation in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, was deemed too dangerous for the electoral process to be held there. Garnering over two-thirds of the vote and beating his nearest rival, the former diplomat and cabinet minister, Dr Abdullahi Adow, by 189 votes to 79, Yusuf Ahmed promised to restore peace and stability to the shattered country.
"Having given me the honour by electing me, I pledge before you and the international community to work hard to reconcile Somalis to bring back peace and security and revive the country," he said in a speech that also appealed for foreign assistance.
"Somalia is a failed state and we have nothing," he continued. "We need you [the international community] to stand by us and help us disarm our militias which are destabilising the Somali people."
The new president's first task was to appoint Professor Ali Mohamed Ghedi as prime minister, who began a selection process to establish a cabinet by early December. Once formed, the new government will transfer back to Mogadishu and begin serving its interim five-year term in office before being followed by general elections in 2009. Ahmed's election was the culmination of a two-year negotiation process supported by the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The 20-hour long run-off elections saw five of the original 27 candidates pull out before Ahmed emerged victorious. However, put simply, the task he faces is ominous.
After the collapse of the Barre regime, clan-based military factions competed for control in a bid to fill...