It is a country that for much of the last 20 years has been the definition of a failed state: Somalia, has lacked an effective central government since 1991.
" No, I don’t have a great deal of confidence (in these elections) because the process has been tainted since day go (one) … by corruption ... the very individuals who have been running the transitional federal government have been entrusted with organising the whole exercise and so there is a great deal of concern ... that this may not be able to usher in a new era … "
- Abdi Ismail Samatar, Somali author
Cycles of war have defied countless peace initiatives and since then warlords and militia groups have fought each other for control but now, Somalia stands at a crossroads.
Its parliament assembled on Monday in the capital Mogadishu to vote for a new president in what the UN has described as a historic moment.
Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991, and has been racked by fighting ever since. It is a situation that has allowed piracy and lawlessness to flourish.
The country has essentially been divided into three distinct regions: The self-declared Republic of Somaliland, which remains unrecognised by any country or international organisation; the semi-autonomous state of Puntland; and south and central Somalia, including the capital, Mogadishu, where the transition federal government is based.
Divisions started after the overthrow of Somali military dictator Siad Barre in 1991 and what followed were turbulent years of political vacuum.
"When all said and done this will just be a small step and there is a hope; but unless Somalia has a free and fair elections where the Somali people vote for their leaders this is just another step and another transition."
- Abdirashid Hashi, Horn of Africa analyst
Civil war erupted, followed by famine, and a US-led international force called "Operation Restore Hope" became just another player in the ongoing violence. International forces eventually withdrew.
In 2004, a transitional goverrnment was formed in neighboring Kenya. But before it could set a foot in the capital Mogadishu, the Union of Islamic Courts took control of much of the south-central portion of the country.
In 2007, Ethiopian troops helped the government recapture the capital from the Islamic Courts but al-Shabab fighters waged a deadly insurgency against the Ethiopian forces. The linked group managed to capture much of the capital, until they were forced out in August 2011.
So, will this election usher in a new era in Somalia's political future?
To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Hazem Sika, is joined by guests: Abdi Ismail Samatar, an author and fellow at the Universities of Pretoria and Minnesota, his brother Ahmed Samatar is currently running in the elections; Muhdin Mohammad Ali, founder and director of Somali Policy - a UK-based political think tank; and Abdirashid Hashi, a Horn of Africa analyst for the International Crisis Group. Abdirashid was also an adviser to Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali.
FACTS ABOUT THE ELECTIONS:
- There are 22 candidates including current the president and the prime minister
- Each candidate running for office paid $10,000 to be on ballot
- Vote is seen as a crucial part of UN-backed roadmap to peace in Somalia
- There are allegations that some candidates bribed MPs for votes