In Italian “cheese” is translated as formaggio , not faarmajo , the second word being a Somali dialectal deformation of the Italian term . The same thing seems to have happened to the old concept of La Grande Somalia , greater Somalia , which used to be the stock-in-trade mystical fuel propelling the movement for Somali-independence-cum-irredentism back in the 1950s . At the time the vehicle for that movement was the Somali Youth League (SYL) , in itself a unitary federative organ since it was created in Italian Somaliland with a discreet backing from MI6 , the British Military Intelligence . The idea , typical in those post-World War Two days still redolent of Trans European political rivalries , was for the British to undermine Italy’s return to its old colony , soon to be concretized under the name of Amministrazione Fiduciaria Italiana della Somalia (AFIS) . Notwithstanding the UN sponsoring of AFIS , this was a perfectly obsolete piece of XIXth century European imperialism and the Somali answered it with an equally obsolete blend of XIXth century nationalism cross-pollinated with anti-colonialism . Practical application of the ideology led to three wars , the third one having caused the explosion of the Somali State .

On February 8th Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed a.k.a. Faarmajo ( a nickname due to his fondness for cheese when he was a little boy in Italian Somalia) was elected by a body of 328 men who had finally floated to the surface of the electoral pool  after several exhausting bouts of underwater combat . Violence , fraud , the distribution of large foreign financial inducements (from Qatar , Ethiopia , Turkey and the E.A.U.) finally enabled Faarmajo to move ahead of twenty-one competitors . The money did not all go his way , far from it (actually the Ethiopians were ready to pay anybody else who would stand against him) but a good amount landed on his lap , or the laps of his supporters . According to our sources (but we could be wrong , the water in the pool is murky) Abu Dhabi won the bidding . Faarmajo had two points in his favor : financial honesty and a dream , the Greater Somalia dream . The financial honesty remains to be proven . Admittedly , Faarmajo has a good record for that , coming from his period (in 2010-2011) as Prime Minister .

At the time he was a breath of fresh in the putrid financial atmosphere of Mogadishu . But after eight months he was pushed out because he was too clean and disturbed the little arrangements between friends making up the Mogadishu political environment . He then went back to Buffalo N.Y. which had become his main home since he had been hired as a municipal civil servant for the New York State Department of Transports[1]. In 2012 he tried – unsuccessfully – to be elected to the presidency but it went to Hassan Sheikh Mahmood . So why did he win this time ? His reputation for financial honesty could not be the cause of his success in a thoroughly corrupt electorate . All the more so since his “voters” were paid to vote for him – in the same way others were paid to vote for other candidates . Then what ? As usual in Somali society , the answer is clear : clan . Faarmajo is Marehan and the Marehan are part of the large Daarod clan family . There are many Daarod clans , many quite populous , and they have been out of power for the past ten years . Whatever passes for power – but represents a good source of enrichment – has been in Hawiye hands since the 2006 Ethiopian invasion . Hassan Sheikh Mahmood , the outgoing president , was a Hawiye of the Abgal clan . The Hawiye had grown lazy in their habit of power , and they succumbed to internal strife between the various clans and personalities of the family . Not so with the Daarod . They joined forces, pooled the corruption money and won .

The result is an odd comeback of the Siad Barre system . Complete with its ideological justification of Greater Somalia which Afweyne had borrowed from the SYL in his time . Mr Faarmajo is a good man with a wrong cause . La Grande Somalia was a wrong idea back in 1943 and it still is . But as Karl Marx once remarked “history seldom repeats itself but when it does , the first time is often a tragedy while the repetition tends to be a farce”. Greater Somalia is (a) an impossibility for the time being (b) a provocative approach to the region (c) an inadequate solution to the political problems of the Somali people . Even with his goodwill , “Mr Cheese” is unlikely to succeed . But for the time being his call for the ghost of a terrifying ideology has united the Daarod behind him and , if they can’t get their preferred “solution” , they’ll settle for the usual next best : cash . So the fight against corruption will probably tend to be a farce . As for Greater Somalia , let us hope its ghost does not combine with outside ambitions which could see a tactical interest in supporting its revival .

                                                                                              February 26th 2017

[1] In many ways , he is a cross-breed between the Siad Barre regime and US culture . He hails from the late dictator’s clan [Marehan] , his father worked as a high level civil servant for the regime and the son was protected from the effects of the civil war by being sent to the US at the age of twenty-three . He then spent the next few years working as an employee of the Somali Embassy in Washington and , after the regime collapsed , acquired a US citizenship . When he went back to Somalia , he was thirty-eight .