Somalis await change as election looms
When I meet Somalis in Mogadishu these days, they tend to ask me one question:
“How have things changed since you first came here a year ago?”
My answer is that it doesn’t really feel like it's the same city at all. It is almost as if someone has turned the contrast up on a television set.
Jabril Ibrahim Abdulle, the director of the Center for Research & Dialogue (CRD), explains that the “dynamics are different".
"A year ago, there was drought and famine, and now we are electing a president,” he says.
Somalis love talking politics over a cup of coffee, and Mogadishu’s many new cafes provide the perfect venue to speculate about this election.
Among the questions being tossed and turned like sugar cubes; who will the former Speaker of Parliament Sheikh Hassan Aden support? Does Hassan Sheikh a rising star, and the main opposition figure, have a chance? Will the former President Sheikh Sharif Hassan Ahmed form enough alliances to win? Who is the international community supporting? Who is Turkey backing?
The CRD's Jabril tells me the person who wins “needs alliances, and to be able to consolidate the clan structure".
There is no doubt that behind the scenes political trading is going on, and top level cabinet positions are on the table.
The clan system is important, but what makes this election different is the make-up of parliament. Around 40 per cent of the MPs are from the diaspora, and many are highly educated.
What kind of president?
The new Speaker of Parliament, Professor Mohamed Sheikh Osman Jawari, with his white beard and quiet manner, has won friends quickly.
Those who have watched him in action tell me not to be fooled, and that he is tough and determined.
I ask him about the worrying reports of intimidation and bribery taking place right under his nose.
“We are trying to run a very clean, open and fair election, I have personally spoken to MPs to follow their judgement. They must be God fearing,“ he says.
I meet a young student called Amar Omar; he has been studying in South Africa, and only recently returned to Somalia. He offers to buy me a juice on the streets of his city close to what is known as the K4 roundabout. The stall sells all kinds of flavours; we both go for mango in the end.
Somalis won’t be voting in this election but they still have strong opinions on the kind of president they want.
"I want a president who is very committed, sincere, and who can unite the Somali people,” Amar says.
As we speak gunfire goes off close by; we duck, and our security detail insists we get in our vehicles and leave.
Amar keeps apologising: “Sorry Nazanine, I thought this street was safe.”
I reply: “Don’t worry Amar it is not your fault, this is Mogadishu, almost everyone carries a weapon.”
Yes, Mogadishu may be more peaceful. But young men looking for work have two choices: to pick up a shovel and dig a road, or to be paid to pick up a gun.