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Ahmed, Abdullahi Yusuf (Somalia)

Reference work entry

Introduction

Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was elected transitional president of Somalia in Oct. 2004. The transitional government began its return from exile in Kenya in June 2005, a step towards establishing the country’s first functioning government since the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991. Following an Ethiopian-backed offensive by government forces against a rival Islamist administration at the end of 2006, he entered the capital, Mogadishu, for the first time as head of state in Jan. 2007. However, his authority over the country remained tenuous. Abdullahi resigned as president in Dec. 2008 following a bitter power struggle with Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein.

Early Life

Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was born on 15 Dec. 1934 in Galcacyo in the Mudug province of Italian Somalia. He studied in Italy and the Soviet Union and, following the country’s independence in June 1960, joined the Somali National Army (SNA). He achieved the rank of colonel but refused to take part in the coup led by Siad Barre in Oct. 1969. Ahmed was jailed but released in the early 1970s and appointed manager of a state agency. He was reinstated as a commander in 1977 when the SNA attempted to ‘liberate’ the ethnically-Somali region of Ogaden in Ethiopia.

The following year, with the support of several members of his Majerteen clan, Ahmed staged an unsuccessful coup and fled to Kenya. Moving to Ethiopia in 1979, he formed the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) to oppose Siad Barre. Ahmed became embroiled in arguments with the Ethiopian leader, Haile Mengistu, and was jailed, released only in 1991 when the dictator’s regime fell.

Siad Barre was driven out of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, on 27 Jan. 1991 by the United Somali Congress militia. Somalia slid into anarchy, divided into a dozen regions controlled by warlords. Ahmed focused his political ambitions in Puntland and was elected president of the relatively peaceful province in July 1998. Having failed to extend his term of office, which expired on 1 July 2001, he fought for control of the country. In the election for the transitional presidency of Somalia, held in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on 10 Oct. 2004, he received 189 out of 268 votes.

Career Peak

Ahmed promised to rebuild his war-ravaged country and asked for international assistance. The transitional government began returning to Somalia in June 2005 but arguments broke out over its location, with Ahmed favouring Jowhar while other members supported a return to Mogadishu. The parliament met for the first time in Feb. 2006 at a compromise location, Baidoa in central Somalia.

The fragile authority of the transitional government was further undermined in mid-2006 by the rise of a rival Islamist administration whose militias seized control of Mogadishu and much of the south of the country from clan warlords who had held sway since the fall of Siad Barre. A political stand-off ensued between the Islamists and Ahmed’s government, which turned to neighbouring Ethiopia to guarantee its security. In Dec. government troops backed by Ethiopian forces launched an offensive against the Islamist militias who retreated in Jan. 2007. Ahmed entered Mogadishu in late Dec. 2006 for the first time since taking office in 2004 to assume nominal authority over the country. However, despite the deployment of an African Union peacekeeping force from March 2007, fierce fighting between Islamist insurgents and Ethiopian-backed government forces ignited again throughout the year, particularly in Mogadishu, fuelling a refugee exodus and humanitarian crisis. Ahmed’s strained relationship with Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Ghedi meanwhile resulted in the latter’s resignation in Oct. 2007 and his replacement in Nov. by Nur Hassan Hussein. The president’s relationship with the new prime minister was similarly turbulent and Ahmed resigned in Dec. 2008 after his attempt to sack Hussein was dismissed as unconstitutional by parliament.

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