Somalia’s new President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed on Thursday appointed a political newcomer as the prime minister, shortly before departing to Saudi Arabia for his first foreign trip since his election.
Somali-born Norwegian national Hassan Ali Khaire, a former executive of British energy explorer Soma Oil & Gas, was appointed prime minister.
His selection is a nod to balancing clan interests in this Horn of Africa nation. Khaire is a member of the Hawiye clan, as is former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, whom Mohamed defeated in the election earlier this month. Mohamed is with the Darod clan.
Khaire served as the Horn of Africa regional chief for the Norwegian Refugee Council aid group from 2011-2014. In June 2012, he was in a motorcade that was attacked by armed men on the Somalia-Kenya border, the Norwegian daily Verdens Gang reported. The incident led to criticism of the aid group’s security.
Mohamed, who was inaugurated on Wednesday, also holds U.S. citizenship. His election was a key step toward establishing Somalia’s first fully functioning central government in a quarter-century. The international community has praised the peaceful transfer of power.
Somalia, with an estimated population of 10 million, has a diaspora of more than 2 million people scattered by a quarter-century of conflict and drought at home. Many of the more than 20 presidential candidates held dual citizenship.
The new president has vowed to make security a priority in a country where Somalia’s homegrown Islamic extremist group, al-Shabab, still carries out deadly attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, and elsewhere. On Sunday, a car bomb in the capital killed at least 34.
Al-Shabab earlier this week denounced Mohamed’s election, calling him an apostate, and vowed to keep fighting. Fighters affiliated with the Islamic State organization also have emerged in Somalia.
Mohamed’s trip to Saudi Arabia is viewed as signaling a significant shift in Somalia’s regional alliances. A government statement said he will meet with Saudi King Salman to discuss strengthening the countries’ relationship, security and aid for Somalia’s drought.
“Having travelled to Saudi Arabia for his first foreign trip as a president, the new Somali president is breaking the long tradition by Somali leaders who have paid their very first foreign trips to Ethiopia, which is called by many as the Mecca of Somali leaders,” said Mohamed Sheikh Abdi, a Somali political analyst based in Mogadishu. “This indicates that the new president now favors an alliance with Arab countries more than others.”
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