Is it time for Somalia’s first female president?
The story of 42-year-old Fadumo Qasim Dayib begins in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area in the mid 1980s.
Every Saturday morning, a single mother who had boundless dreams for her firstborn, took the daughter Fadumo to Nairobi. This was a Saturday morning motivational ritual between mother and daughter. She wanted the girl to see beyond the Eastleigh suburbs. So they would drive past towering buildings and inviting shops and restaurants, past men and women in the bustling city streets in elegant clothes. They would saunter down the road and idly gape at the passing cars.
Fadumo recalls one particular Saturday morning.
“Mom, when I grow up, I’ll buy that building up there,” young Fadumo would say, pointing out an apartment by the roadside.
“Fadumo, you can buy the building. You only need to work for it,” the mother says, careful not to let the response sound glib.
“I will also dine at this restaurant,” Fadumo says again, pointing at a nearby building.
“That’s simple,” the mother says. “So what do you want to become when you grow up?”
“I want to work with the United Nations.”
“You can work with the United Nations, Fadumo,” the mother says. “If you really want it, you can do it.”
Many years later, Fadumo Dayib ended up working in healthcare and development with the United Nations for more than a decade, the same UN of her childhood imaginations. She bought a building similar to the one she had pinpointed as a child. She dined at many glitzy restaurants across continents. The experiences she acquired over the years broadened her horizons and she is now dreaming big. Really big. Fadumo recently announced that she will run for president of Somalia in the 2016 elections.
“You can also become a president,” her mother would have said if she were alive today. Fadumo’s mother passed away in 1995.
That she would one day talk of running for president of Somalia was impossible to imagine on that Saturday morning in Nairobi. Fadumo was then seldom in school. Her family occasionally moved from place to place and she did not learn to read and write till age 14. They had lived between Somalia and Kenya (Fadumo was actually born in Thika, Kenya). Her mother had earlier lost eleven children prematurely. Fadumo was the first to survive. Her mother called her Deeqo, meaning “The sufficient one.”
After Fadumo’s birth, the family moved to Mombasa and then to Eastleigh neighborhood in Nairobi where they stayed until December 1989 when they were deported from Kenya to Somalia. Fadumo spent her childhood in Somalia.
“The deportation restored my true identity; it gave me a sense of dignity. I got back to where my parents were born. Where all my extended family lived,” she says. “What happened to us still continues to happen in Kenya today. The Somali refugees in Dadaab are now being asked to return home.”
In the early 1990s, when the civil war broke out in Somalia, Fadumo’s family fled the country once again. Fadumo led her two younger siblings on a journey through Russia all the way to Finland. Her mother would later join them in Finland.
“This of course interrupted my education. I took only five years of elementary and middle school education. The nomadic nature of my family deprived me of schooling until my early teenage years,” she told SAHAN JOURNAL on Skype while speaking from Harvard University where she is currently doing a mid-career master in public administration. Fadumo is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Helsinki working on issues affecting women, peace, and security.
The family was warmly welcomed in Finland. Here was a place where Fadumo could achieve her dreams if she worked with diligence and commitment. And work she did!
Fadumo’s mother once got sick and she was taken to the hospital. Fadumo was there with her. The little girl noticed how the doctors and nurses cared for the patients. She instantly knew she wanted to be like them. Fadumo wanted to work at the hospital someday.
Fast forward, few years later, Fadumo was an accomplished young woman in Finland.
“I think of myself as a trailblazer among the Somali community in Finland,” says Fadumo, who is now a mother of four.
“I was the first Somali refugee in Finland to graduate with masters; I was the first Somali refugee in Finland to work as a clinical-nurse at a public hospital; I was the first Somali refugee to start a doctoral program at a Finnish university,” she claims, a broad smile forming on her mouth.
What prompted you to run for president? I ask.
“It’s not about ruling the country; it’s about working with and for the people of Somalia and making the changes we’ve all been waiting for. I am not running for money or fame. I don’t even care for the salary. I am not running for the luxury of living in Villa Somalia. I am ready to live in a tent or to sleep on an empty stomach, if need be. I am ready to work for the people,” she says, pausing in thought.
“I worked in many countries. I was in Liberia for years. I saw Liberia rising from the ashes. It dawned on me that if Liberians could build their country from scratch, there is no reason why we (Somalis) can’t do it too. Somalia can again stand on its feet,” Fadumo says, her voice breaking with emotion. She is concerned about the situation in the country. She uses social media to keep in touch with the news in Somalia and often speaks with people back home in Somalia.
Fadumo herself intends to go back home.
She has been physically away from Somalia for nearly 25 years but Fadumo’s heart “always lived and still continues to live there.”
She has no patience with the current clan politics. “I don’t have any clan affiliation. I am a Somali and the Somali flag is my clan. I want to give Somalis a new and fresh choice in the 2016 elections,” Fadumo says. She understands the general skepticism about politicians and their pie-in-the-sky promises at campaigns. Her focus is on setting realistic goals such as tackling injustice and inequity by establishing structures (a truth and reconciliation commission, for instance).
As for the economy, her main focus is on unemployment, especially among the youth. “Job creation is vital. One way this can be done is by giving the youth vocational training focusing on technical, behavioral and business skills so that they can be self-sufficient. Most importantly, we can revitalize our manufacturing, services, and agricultural sectors.”
Fadumo believes the biggest threat to security in Somalia is al-Shabaab. She intends to build a functional security sector by training the uniformed services (military, police, border guards, and the intelligence services) and providing them a decent, stable salary.
She also believes in inclusive politics especially in a post civil war country like Somalia.
“I believe in giving al-Shabaab an opportunity to join the peace process provided that they lay down arms, stop causing mayhem and denounce all affiliations with global terrorism. If they refuse to do so, then our functional security sector can deal with them. Disarmament is also vital. Giving incentives so that armed militia can hand in their weapons.”
“That’s all I can do in my four-year tenure,” she adds, looking straight into the camera.
Are you happy with the response your campaign has generated so far? I ask.
“What I did was just a warm-up for the big game. My campaign will start in full-force [in August]. But I am happy with the response I’ve generated so far. There are many Somalis who are ready to support my bid. My supporters include elderly Somalis who reminisce about their childhood in Somalia, young men and women who are fed up with the situation in the country and open-minded leaders who are ready to make a change,” she says with a broad smile.
Somalis reacted to Fadumo’s campaign video on social media. When I read through the comments on different websites, I noticed the gloomy responses mostly coming from women who say Islam doesn’t permit women to hold leadership positions. I asked Fadumo what she thought about this.
How do you feel about running as a female candidate? I ask.
“Somali women single-handedly bring up kids. They run businesses. They are also holding leadership positions in the current government, however small the percentage maybe. Therefore I don’t understand why a woman can’t run for the presidency in Somalia. It’s not about religion; it’s about the subjugation of women. Some Somalis just don’t want women to the hold top offices in the country. This is very wrong and it must change.”
How has her family reacted?
“They were of course terrified at first. This is a perilous decision, you know. I am already getting death threats. But my family knows the word “can’t” is not in my dictionary. They were very supportive anyway,” Fadumo says.
Fadumo is an avid reader who devours fiction and nonfiction alike. She particularly loves Chimamanda Adichie’s “Half of a Yellow Sun.” She says the novel resonates with her in many ways as a child of civil war.
For Fadumo Qassim Dayib, this is just the beginning. She is now embarking on a long campaign which will soon see her in Somalia. She thinks she can convince Somalis to vote for her. But if this does not work out, Fadumo is not giving up. She will run again in the next elections. Her eyes are set on the highest seat in the country and there is no looking back.
Steve Jarding, one of her lecturers at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, agreed to be advisor in her campaign.
“Anytime you get people willing to stand up and challenge the status quo, it’s going to have the potential to make a lasting impact,” Jarding said.
“No matter the outcome,” he said, “she will make an impact for future generations to follow.”
Asad is a contributing writer for Sahan Journal. Follow him on Twitter at: @WriterlyBoy
Image courtesy of Lincoln School.