A Former Oil Executive and Political Newcomer is Somalia's New Prime Minister

Hassan Ali Khaire
Somalia's newly-appointed Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire talks on the phone in Mogadishu, Somalia on February 23. A former oil executive and humanitarian, Somalia's new president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has appointed Khaire to be his prime minister. STRINGER/AFP/Getty

A political newcomer, a regional director in a humanitarian organization and a senior official in an oil exploration company: Hassan Ali Khaire can now add the title of prime minister of Somalia to his résumé.

Somalia's newly elected president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, appointed the 48-year-old Somali-Norwegian dual citizen on Thursday to be his right-hand man in transforming the Horn of Africa country. In a video statement reported by The New York Times, Khaire said he would accept the appointment—providing it was approved by the Somali parliament—and pledged to form a representative government.

The challenges facing Khaire, who has no political experience in Somalia, are vast: an impending famine; a destructive Islamist insurgency; and widespread allegations of government corruption.

Khaire was born in central Somalia and is a member of the Hawiye tribe, one of Somalia's five principal clans. It is the same tribe as Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Somalia's previous president who was defeated by Mohamed in February's election, and Khaire has close ties with Mohamud, according to pro-democracy Somali group Wakiil. Khaire was educated in Oslo and Edinburgh and has lived in the Scandinavian country since the late 1980s, when Somalia's decades-long civil war began to boil over.

The new prime minister has extensive experience in the humanitarian field, having worked as a county and then regional director for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)—a humanitarian organization that works in the Horn of Africa, among other regions. Khaire led the Council's operations in East Africa and the Horn of Africa between 2011 and 2014, before taking up the position of executive director for Africa at Soma Oil & Gas, a U.K.-based company conducting oil exploration in Somalia, according to a copy of his CV seen by Newsweek.

Khaire encountered controversy at the oil and gas firm, which is chaired by the former leader of the Conservative Party in the U.K., Michael Howard. BuzzFeed News revealed in March 2016 that the U.N. Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) was investigating the activities of the company and, specifically, was looking into alleged connections between Khaire and East African militant groups, including al-Shabaab, which has been waging war on the federal government in Somalia since the early 2000s. Soma consistently denied the allegations against Khaire, and a U.N. panel cleared Khaire of any connections to al-Shabaab or other extremist groups.

The newly appointed Somali prime minister resigned from his role at Soma on Thursday as his new appointment was announced in order to avoid any possible conflict of interest. "Hassan Khaire has been a highly valued member of [Soma's] management team but we fully understand his decision and wish him every success in his new role," said a Soma statement.

Commentators in Somalia and abroad have welcomed Khaire's appointment on social media. Fadumo Dayib, who was the first female presidential candidate in Somalia's elections before dropping out of the race in December 2016 due to alleged corruption, praised the new prime minister, while his appointment was also hailed by the former deputy speaker of Kenya's parliament, Farah Maalim.

#NewDawn Prime Minister Khayre is a brilliant strategist, astute, articulate, humble & competent. Just what #Somalia needs today! #Proud pic.twitter.com/mHrdaNScJ1

— Fadumo Qasim Dayib (@fqdayib) February 23, 2017

I have known Hassan Ali Khaire for about eleven years now & can't think of a better person for the job. Somalia must get it right this time.

— Farah Maalim EGH (@FarahMaalimM) February 24, 2017

In Norway, however, the anti-immigration Progress Party has called for Khaire to be stripped of his Norwegian passport. "A country's prime minister cannot have multiple nationalities. If conflicts occur, where will their loyalties lie?" the party's immigration spokesman Mazyar Keshvari told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Two-thirds of the presidential candidates in Somalia's election were dual passport holders, according to Quartz. President Mohamed is a dual Somali-U.S. national.