Tonight was a historic night in Somalia: presidential elections were held in Mogadishu for the first time in more than 40 years.
But there is something else that is also very important because it did not happen: there were no major Shabab attacks in Mogadishu or near the election venue, as I had expected they would try to carry out some as they tried to attack the venue where the constitution was being approved several weeks ago.
This suggests the Shabab are losing their ability to carry out mass-casualty attacks deep in government-held Mogadishu. They settled for hand grenade attacks in areas very far from the election venue near the Mogadishu Airport.
Perhaps more important than the above two is the fact that the grossly corrupt and incompetent members of the outgoing government lost the elections in a very humiliating manner to an academic newcomer to the political scene.
This despite reportedly bribing Members of Parliament to vote for them, and ironically making them take an oath on the Quran that the MPs would not renege on their promise to vote for them.
While this reflects badly on the MPs no matter what they did (breaking their promise to vote for the corrupt outgoing officials means they broke their oath with God as their witness; keeping their words would still make them bad as they took bribes and used God as their witness – how pathetic!), the outcome favoured the Somali nation. The end of transition can now be considered as an end of transition because most of the bad apples during the transition have been thrown away.
Sure, the Shabab have vowed to continue fighting no matter who won, but the new president is not hated by the Shabab anywhere near how Sheikh Sharif is hated.
An Islamist who despised Sharif and was campaigning for a candidate who did well told me that he was campaigning “for change”. I learnt from him that almost all the other candidates decided to support Hassan Sheikh so as to block Sharif from getting reelected.
Not being Sharif and not having a history of war gives the new president an edge.
However, to really be able to weed corruption out of government and increase security, he has to slowly get rid of the Sharif loyalists in the security forces, and not reappoint any of the corrupt officials from the outgoing government. This will take time, but without doing this, we will just have a new president but no change in
The international community should pressure the new government to form an independent anticorruption watchdog with teeth. Otherwise, news of disappearing funds will continue being the norm.
If this government becomes as bad as the outgoing one, it is a plus for the Shabab. And they really need it to fail to show that democracy always fails.