BAIDOA, Somalia (Reuters) - Somalia’s president nominated career public servant and former attorney general Nur Hassan Hussein as prime minister on Thursday, hoping to shake off paralysis hampering the government as it battles insurgents.
The nomination of Hussein, now a Somali Red Crescent officer seen as a neutral political figure, came three weeks after his predecessor quit under pressure over a lack of progress in building the transitional government.
President Abdullahi Yusuf made his announcement in Baidoa, the south-central trading town where the Somali parliament sits.
Yusuf urged Hussein — an Italian-trained lawyer and former police trainer born in Mogadishu in 1938 — to form a cabinet quickly and asked parliament to approve the nomination. By law, the vote should take place within 24 hours.
“I pledge that I will do my utmost to perform the difficult obligations in front of me, by respecting the Somali federal charter,” Hussein said.
He would become the second prime minister in the interim government, the 14th attempt at establishing an effective national authority in Somalia since 1991.
Ahmed Ould-Abdallah, the U.N. special envoy to Somalia, praised the government for carrying out the nomination through consultation. “I hope that this appointment will prepare the ground for a united approach,” he said in a statement.
Hussein’s nomination comes as one million Somalis have fled their homes and thousands have been killed in fighting between Islamist insurgents and allied Somali-Ethiopian forces.
The war and ensuing human crisis — said by the United Nations to be worse now than in Sudan’s Darfur region — has sunk efforts to produce political harmony, which has eluded the government since it was formed at talks in Kenya in late 2004.
Hussein arrived in Baidoa on Tuesday, and a day later was issued with an essential Somali political accessory — a retinue of heavily armed militiamen for security.
On October 29, the president won a longstanding feud with former Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, effectively forcing the latter to step down with a no-confidence vote looming.
That, combined with a change allowing non-legislators to serve as ministers, cleared the way for what diplomats hoped would be a prime minister and cabinet with practical experience.
In prior cabinets, the prime minister could only choose ministers from the Somali parliament, which has many illiterate warlords and clan elders.
Known as Nur Adde, Hussein served in many government jobs from 1958 and rose to be attorney general in 1987, four years before dictator Mohamed Siad Barre’s ouster by warlords unleashed anarchy on the Horn of Africa nation.
Since then, he has been secretary-general of the Somali Red Crescent.
As required under a clan power-sharing arrangement in the transitional constitution, Hussein comes from the Hawiye clan, and specifically Gedi’s Abgal subclan.
“This guy has the support of the Abgal and other Hawiyes, and they see him as someone who is more neutral than others. He is an old man, but he is healthy,” said a Somali expert.
Hawiye dissatisfaction with Gedi in the clan’s top government post, his close ties with historic enemy Ethiopia, and the fact the president comes from the rival Darod clan have all fuelled opposition.
“He is a man who can unite the government and the rebels. Somalis are lucky to have him in this difficult situation,” Hawiye clan spokesman Ugas Abdulahi Elmi Osoble said of the new prime minister.
But an Islamist fighter who declined to give his name said: “Any new person who joins this so-called government will introduce no change. Islamists will forever fight as long as Ethiopian occupation forces are here.”
Additional reporting by Aweys Yusuf in Mogadishu and Bryson Hull in Nairobi, Writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Giles Elgood