Abdikassim Salad Hassan

Polity After Anarchy

The position that Somalia’s first president in nearly a decade has to fill seems to be merely a vague idea. Abdikassim Salad Hassan does not have an office, much less an organized army to command or government ministers to manage. To top it all off, his transitional government still must deal with the leaders of two autonomous regions in the northern part of the country, which have refused to recognize his authority.

Somalia was ravaged by fighting for the past decade and left without a government after the long-time dictator Muhammad Siyad Barre fell from power in 1991. And with him fell Abdikassim Salad Hassan—who served the Siyad Barre regime for 20 years in top posts, including minister of the interior.

Now, Hassan, 58, a father of seven who is known for his toughness, vision, and oratory skills as well as his uncompromising and hardheaded character, has been appointed by Somalia’s new interim parliament to return to power for a three-year term to aid this impoverished nation onto a path of normality—after 12 previous attempts to restore a lawful government failed. After his election, Somalis greeted the new leader with tremendous euphoria in anticipation of better days to come.

“[Hassan’s] election has given rise to both hope and fear in the Horn of Africa,” writes the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur. Uganda’s government-owned New Vision hails the installation of Hassan as “a significant development toward peace in a country where warlords have reigned since 1991.”

But Hassan’s victory is seen as much more than that. It is a crucial test of Somalia’s ability to overcome its past. “I am the president of Somalia,” Hassan has said. “There is a law, there is a charter. The law of the charter will apply to everybody. I have every confidence in our people. The days of lawlessness and anarchy are over.”