Somalia’s president sworn in amid refugee crisis

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:

    Somalia, one of the seven countries listed in President Trump's executive order restricting immigration, swore in a new president this week. Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is a dual Somali and American citizen who went to college and worked in the U.S. Nicknamed "Farmajo," the new president takes over as more than a quarter million Somalis are living in a refugee camp in neighboring Kenya, a camp the Kenyan government wants to close but has been prevented from doing so by a court decision.

    For more, NPR reporter Eyder Peralta joins me now via Skype from Kenya's capital, Nairobi.

    First, let's talk about this vote. This isn't exactly the one-person, one-vote we think of when we think of an election. What happened here?

  • EYDER PERALTA, NPR REPORTER:

    So, it was supposed to be a one-person, one-vote type of election that we're used to, but the government could not get its act together, and they also had massive security concerns. So, what they decided on was a process where parliament was electing the president.

    So, parliament had two rounds of votes, and by the second round, Mohamed Farmajo won that round. They were supposed to be to a third round. But the incumbent, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, stepped away from the race. So, then, Mohamed Farmajo became the president, the new president of Somali.

  • SREENIVASAN:

    So, these clan elders elected delegates, then delegates elect the MPs, the MPs elect the president. There are now charges of some corruptions on whether some of these votes were bought.

  • PERALTA:

    You know, I have been speaking to lots of people who are anticorruption activists, and they've looked into this, and what they said is that votes were going for tens of thousands dollars, and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the former president of Somalia, was seen as having spent a ton of money on this seat. And so, Mohamed Farmajo, as did all 24 candidates, and the inspector general from the country has looked at this, was — they bought votes. But he was seen as the least-corrupt candidate. SREENIVASAN: Let's also talk a little bit about the refugee camp that's in Kenya, that has an enormous Somali population. You were just there. This is one of the world's largest, if not the largest refugee camp.

  • PERALTA:

    Yes, it's huge, and it was supposed to be closed by the Kenyan government in May and a court here said that it should not be closed. Somalis there had two reasons to celebrate — and in fact they went out to the streets to celebrate — one that the camp was not closing, two that Mohamed Farmajo had been elected. And people — Mohamed Farmajo was the popular favorite and people have hope that he might bring change to Somalia.

  • SREENIVASAN:

    OK. What about the executive orders and repercussions back and forth when Somalis were perhaps on their way to the United States and then stopped and then started again? What's that done in the country?

  • PERALTA:

    In Dadaab, you know, when I was down there, people felt really abandoned. They felt abandoned by the United States. They felt abandoned by the Kenyans.

    And about 200 of the refugees there had been flown to Nairobi, awaiting flights to the United States. And they were canceled.

    And I think the important thing to remember is that these are refugees who have been in Dadaab since the '90s and have been waiting for resettlement to the United States anywhere from six to nine years. And so, this was really heartbreaking for them. But then, this decision from the 9th Circuit came down, and I was just at the transit center here in Nairobi a couple of days ago, and they've started flying back to the United States again.

    And the 200 who were sent back to the camps to await flights have now been brought back to Nairobi, and they've started flying out today, back to the United States.

  • SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Eyder Peralta of NPR, joining us via Skype from Nairobi — thanks so much.

  • PERALTA:

    Thank you.

    END

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