Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s dogged determination not to give up on Somalia despite years of conflict, warlordism, piracy and Islamist insurgency has finally paid off.
The peace activist and educational campaigner remained in Somalia throughout the 21-year civil war unlike many other Somali intellectuals.
He defeated former President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in a run-off with a convincing majority of Somali MPs.
Both men hail from the Hawiye clan – one of the country’s main groups based in the capital, Mogadishu. But, unlike his predecessor, clan – which influences all walks of life in Somalia – was not the driving force behind Mr Mohamud’s victory.
Analysts say it is the fact that the academic had not dirtied himself with politics or clan conflicts that set him out from the rest.
Instead, he has won respect for his work in civil society and education, being one of the founders of Mogadishu’s Simad university, where he was a lecturer and served as its first dean for 10 years until he resigned to enter politics.
One of his former students who graduated in 2004 told the BBC he was an easy-going tutor, not quick to anger and an impressive orator.
“He could entertain us for two hours during lectures on management, making jokes and people laugh,” he told the BBC Somali service.
Born in central Hiran province in 1955, he grew up in a middle-class neighbourhood of Mogadishu and graduated from the Somali National University with a technical engineering degree in 1981.
His contemporaries say he was quiet and unassuming and went on to become a teacher before doing a post-graduate degree in Bhopal University, India.
On his return, he joined the Ministry of Education to oversee a teach-training scheme funded by Unesco.
When the central government collapsed in 1991, he joined Unicef as an education officer, travelling around south and central Somalia, which he said enabled him to see “the magnitude of the collapse in education sector”.
Three years later, he established one of the first primary schools in Mogadishu since the war broke out.
He also has links with al-Islah, the Somali branch of the Muslim brotherhood which was vital in rebuilding the education system in the wake of the clan conflicts.
It set up many schools with Muslim curriculums similar to those in Sudan and Egypt but is strongly opposed to al-Shabab.
Described as a moderate Islamist, Mr Mohamud is also said to have been close to the Union of Islamist Courts (UIC).
His followers say he simply supported any activity aiming to restore peace and stability.
The UIC was a grouping of local Islamic courts, initially set up by businessmen to establish some form of order in the lawless state, which brought relative peace to the country in 2006, before Ethiopia invaded and overthrew them – frightened by the al-Qaeda linked al-Shabab militia that was gaining power in the courts.
During the 1990s, Mr Mohamud became very involved in civil society groups and people close to him say he is known for resolving clan disputes.
His first real success on this score was his participation in negotiations in 1997 that oversaw the removal of the infamous “Green Line” which divided Mogadishu into two sections controlled by rival clan warlords.
Described by some in the early 1990s as the “cancer of Mogadishu”, the division made life difficult for city residents and politicians alike.
In 2001, he joined the Centre for Research and Dialogue as a researcher in post-conflict reconstruction – a body sometimes criticised as being too closely affiliated to the West – and has worked as a consultant to various UN bodies and the transitional government.
As a regular participant on the influential weekly BBC Somali service debating programme, he underlined the importance of including civil society groups in the “roadmap to peace” which eventually led to his election.
Married to two wives and with several children, some of whom live in Somalia and others abroad, his motivation seems to come from wanting to build a future for the younger generation.
Last year, he set up the Peace and Development Party (PDP), which he made clear was above clan politics.
The BBC’s Daud Aweis in Mogadishu says Mr Mohamud is a man who likes to consult others.
“In the various Somali conferences I met him, he showed the attitude of being able and willing to talk to everyone,” he said.
December 6, 2013 //
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