Somali clan leaders debated the virtues of 28 presidential candidates Saturday in Kenya, the day before an election intended to bring stability to a country that has had no government for more than a decade, has no money in its treasury and is run by warlords.
Somali leaders can't even predict when a new government would be able to return safely to Somalia because of violence there and the militias that rule the divided capital, Mogadishu.
So while participants hail this weekend's vote, which caps a two-year peace process, as a major step toward bringing a semblance of normalcy to the anarchic nation, many observers fear a catastrophic failure.
Meeting on a college campus outside the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, each aspiring leader lobbied the 275 new members of parliament who will select the president on Sunday. The president will then appoint a prime minister and a cabinet.
The problems facing the new government are immense. Somalia has had no government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohammed Siad Barre and then turned their guns on each other, dividing the country into fiefdoms.
The sponsors of the peace process -- the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, the United Nations and the European Union -- have declared the talks an unequaled success because almost every warlord participated and the leaders of neighboring countries have been part of the peace process.
Candidates from every clan, most of the armed factions and some civic leaders are among the 27 men and one woman running for president. Among the favorites are men with the largest private militias, while some civic leaders have been proposed as possible compromise candidates.
The Somali lawmakers, each chosen by their clan leaders, will meet at a stadium in Nairobi on Sunday and vote in a multi-round process designed to winnow the number of candidates to two before selecting a winner.
Despite the broad participation in the peace process, many diplomats and activists point out that there has been little reconciliation among the enemies who now sit together in parliament or who are running for president. Many of the faction leaders have been coerced into participating in the peace talks, and some see the new government as a chance only to consolidate power, not share it, said Jabril Abdulle, co-director of the independent Center for Research and Dialogue in Somalia.
"Those warlords who fail to get something out of this new government absolutely will go back to their guns," Abdulle said. He said the only question is how many of them will quit the peace process and what will be done to prop up the new government.
The new government will take over a country with no civil service, no public property and no money.
European officials working behind the scenes have started drafting a Rapid Assistance Program, a vague working paper that proposes giving the new government $17.5 million to get started. But privately, European officials acknowledge that the aid package is not enough for an administration in which more than 90 percent of the officials have no experience governing and in which immediate needs range from stationery to office buildings. The United Nations has estimated at least $5 billion will be needed to rebuild Somalia in the long term.