By Abdi Yusuf
BBC News, Nairobi
Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed is expected to announce a new prime minister shortly, weeks after Ali Muhammed Ghedi resigned.
Mr Ghedi’s departure was the culmination of a lengthy political, and reportedly, personal feud with President Yusuf, who will now want a prime minister who will be less of a rival.
Somali officials say that the US and Ethiopia – both strong supporters of President Yusuf and his government – were behind Mr Ghedi’s resignation and want a non-politician to become his successor.
In a strong indication that President Yusuf agrees with this, the Somali parliament unanimously approved the appointment of non-legislators to the premiership and cabinet, a move promptly applauded by the US.
According to Somalia’s interim constitution, the president has 30 days to appoint a new premier.
The man who has been labelled « America’s choice » by various Somali pundits is US-based academic Ali Jimale Ahmed, a literature lecturer at the New York University.
Mr Jimale is reported to have arrived in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, and held several meetings with senior Ethiopian officials which centred on his possible appointment.
However, he has now said he will not take up the post unless Ethiopia agrees to withdraw its troops within three months.
This is regarded as a clear sign that he is considering taking up the post.
At the moment, Mr Jimale is viewed as a good choice for the major players in the Somali political scene: he is not a threat to the presidency and seems to have US and Ethiopian approval.
He is also from the Hawiye clan – a key factor in Somalia’s clan-driven politics.
The Hawiye clan is dominant in the capital, Mogadishu, and a traditional rival to President Yusuf’s Darod clan.
President Yusuf knows he must choose a Hawiye to keep the peace, as some Hawiye members are believed to back the Islamic insurgents who oppose Ethiopia’s presence in the country.
A Hawiye candidate would also ease tensions that emerged after Mr Ghedi resigned, as some clan members believe he was forced out.
But the premiership will not be a sure deal for Mr Jimale.
The list of contenders is long and includes other Hawiye politicians and intellectuals.
Among them is former presidential contender and finance minister under late President Siad Barre’s regime, Abdullahi Ahmed Adow.
The director of HornAfrik Media, a leading media organisation, Ahmed Abdisalam, is also said to be in the picture.
Other candidates are:
Ali Mahdi Muhammed, the former head of the National Reconciliation Commission
– Hussein Aideed, former deputy prime minister, currently in self-exile in Eritrea
– Muhammed Mahmud Guled, the immediate former interior minister.
Observers argue that the position may be offered to the opposition in a bid to win them over.
However, Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the chairman of the ousted Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and leader of Eritrea-based Alliance for Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS), has rejected the overtures, saying they can only work if the Ethiopian troops quit Somalia.
And although Mr Ghedi is out of the Mogadishu political scene, he cannot be written off.
His shadow looms large from neighbouring Kenya, and analysts believe that the former prime minister is assembling an opposition alliance.
Whoever becomes the next prime minister faces a daunting task with regional implications.
To succeed, he will have to deal with rising insecurity and threats from insurgent groups.