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Profile: Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Somalia's determined new president

The 56-year-old peace activist and education reformer has found himself leading the war-torn nation after defeating former president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in a run-off election Tuesday.

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Somalia elects peace activist Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as president. (Youtube/Screengrab)

During his country's 21-year civil war, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Somalia's determined new president, remained in his country while most other intellectual reformers fled.

Now the 56-year-old peace activist and education reformer has found himself leading the war-torn nation, after defeating former president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in a run-off election on Tuesday, the first of its kind in decades.

Both the new president — considered a moderate Islamist — and his predecessor hail from the Hawiye clan, which is based on Mogadishu. However, Mohamud's clan affiliations were said not to be the driving force behind his victory.

Instead, many said it is his commitment to the country, and particularly its educational system, that garnered votes, the BBC reported. His career in academia rather than in politics has also made him a less compromised contender than the rest.

On Tuesday, celebratory gunfire marked the election of the new president who won by 190 votes, against 79, in a secret ballot by members of parliament, Reuters reported.

Mohamud was born into a middle-class neighborhood in Somalia's Hiran province in 1955. He was educated at Somalia National University in engineering, and later went on to earn a graduate degree in India.

More from GlobalPost: Inside Somalia: Life in Hell

He returned to Somalia to take up a position in the education ministry before the government's collapse in 1991, said the BBC.

From there, he joined UNICEF to oversee its policies in Somalia, which inspired him to push for educational reform in the country.

Mohamud began one of the first primary schools in Somalia after the war had begun with the help of al Islah — considered the Somali franchise of the Muslim Brotherhood, said the BBC. He also helped negotiate peace between warring clans in the country.

Reuters said that the new president faces daunting challenges, given Somalia's troubled past and present.

Aside from being one of the poorest countries on the planet, Somalia is also one of the most corrupt, with only three out of every 10 dollars of revenue raised by the government actually reaching state accounts, according to a UN report cited by Reuters. AllAfrica listed several key problems the new president must tackle if he is to succeed, including corruption, weak institutions of governance and reconciliation.

In a recent interview with Voice of America, Mohamud spoke of the challenges ahead of him and his hopes for the new government.

“In a clan setting, you can only produce a clan leader; you cannot produce a national leader. Here, in the political parties, we intend to produce national leaders," he said. "Our main focus is that."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/120911/hassan-sheikh-mohamud-somalias-determined-new-president