Fawzia Adam: Daughter of poet seeks proper verse to lead Somalia

Fawzia Yusuf Haji Adam

Somalia’s former foreign minister Fawzia Yusuf Haji Adam who has announced her candidacy for president in the country's next elections.

Photo credit: Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • Fawzia Yusuf Haji Adam, Somalia’s ex-foreign minister, announced she will be contesting Somalia’s presidency when elections are held on October 10 this year.

Fawzia Yusuf Haji Adam, Somalia’s ex-foreign minister, was known only as a diplomat when her country was peaceful. And for the past 30 years, her career has straddled the country’s politics and diplomacy.

Recently, she announced she will be contesting Somalia’s presidency when elections are held on October 10 this year.

The Federal Electoral Implementation Team, the country’s main electoral body, is expected to vet and approve candidates for the position.

But so far, Ms Adam is the only female contender in a race that has attracted more than a dozen big names, most of them male.

“I want to lead this country and steer it in the right direction. Somalia has been in turmoil for the last 40 years. Three decades without a proper government and civil war and ten years prior to that in regional wars,” she told Nation.Africa this week in an interview. 

“Due to the current political instability and paradox, Somalia has been dubbed a failed state, which is dangerous to the existence of the nation and the peace and stability of neighbouring countries.”

A first

Until she announced her interest in Somalia’s top seat, Asha Ahmed Abdalla had been the only other female presidential contender when she unsuccessfully ran in 2004 in elections organised in Kenya.

That vote was won by the late Col Abdullahi Yusuf, who became the first president of Somalia’s interim government at the time.

Ms Adam contest could mark a first in elections held within Somalia.

Already a big name after she became Somalia’s first female deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister, she spent her early life as a diplomat serving in Washington, Moscow, Berlin and Paris, both for Somalia and as an employee of the UN.

She also helped found RAAD TV in 2006, in what she argues was to help provide an alternative narrative to the story of Somalia.

Politically, she tried her luck in her native Somaliland region but her bid was cut short on technicalities.

Just a year before she crossed into Mogadishu to become Somalia’s first female foreign affairs minister in 2012, she had formed a political party called NBD, whose initials translate in English as the Peace, Democracy and Prosperity party.

NBD was, however, prevented from attaining full registration, meaning she could not run for president in Somaliland, which had declared unrecognised independence from Somalia.

Ms Adam would hold street protests against what she saw as a violation of her rights as a citizen.

When Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected Somalia’s president, Ms Adam made history by becoming Somalia’s first woman foreign affairs minister.

It was a turning point in the life of a public figure who had previously advocated the separation of Somaliland from Somalia.

Accepting an appointment in Mogadishu meant one victory for those advocating for union of Somalis.

Confronting patriarchy

But politics both in Hargeisa, where she was born, and Somalia in general had given her an experience on patriarchy.

“As a woman, I have had many challenges, including cultural and traditional obstacles to women’s emancipation,” she told Nation.Africa.

“It was believed that a female holding such a high-profile position was a taboo. Every step of my way was therefore a challenge.”

Ms Adam, who chairs the National Democratic Party and leads the HIIGSI Coalition, an alliance of 10 political parties, may still face those barriers: Somalia has never elected a woman as president and the electoral agency is struggling to implement a 30 per cent quota for women among elected representatives.

As a conservative Muslim country where clan elders routinely wield influence on politics, even she knows that would be one obstacle to surmount.

Yet she says she has the brains to face the challenges.

A graduate in international public policy from Johns Hopkins School of International Studies, Ms Adam has championed access to education, much like her father.

She helped found the University of Hargeisa 21 years ago.

Poet father

Her father Yusuf Haji Adam was a poet and Somalia’s first diplomat to the Arab world.

He is generally referred to as the father of education in the country for campaigning for the rights of Somalis to go to school.

He had formed a political movement, the Somali National Society, long before Somalia’s independence.

Her husband, the late Gen Abukar M. Liban, was a diplomat too.

Her motivation to be president is both internal and external.

Locally, she wants a Somalia that has some sort of direction.

Externally, she wants to stop bickering between Somalia and neighbours.

“My policy with neighbouring countries is rebuilding and reviving our brotherly relationship, to work closely together, to achieve peace, security and economic development,” she argued, saying her manifesto has innovative solutions to regional conflicts.

“Central to my vision is peace and security, reconciliation, overcoming poverty, to build our human resource through quality education and improved healthcare services, to create jobs through sustainable economic growth and to ensure social justice and good governance,” she said.

Somalia, she says, cannot earn respect unless it works for it. And that will involve having leaders who can abide by the law.

She thinks Somalia can turn around its fortunes in the next 15 years, if Somalis pick good leaders, starting with her.

It is her Vision 2035 and she wants to learn from the past.

When Hassan Sheikh Mohamud appointed her foreign affairs minister, she says she brought Somalia’s image back on the global map.

Running on a better organised foreign ministry, she also says she helped renovate and bring back to Somalia’s ownership property that had been grabbed abroad when the country fell among warlords in 1991.

Somalia is a great nation with a promise for a great future at home and across the globe.

“I am offering to rewrite Somalia’s dark political narrative to one filled with the unimaginable excitement and realisation of Somalia’s aspirations, dreams and goals,” she added.

She served under Hassan Sheikh Mohamud for two years before she was replaced, but she argues she helped lobby for Somalia’s recognition and support for the federal government, lowered the restrictions of an arms embargo and fought for the rights of refugees when she signed a tripartite agreement with Kenya and the UNHCR on the voluntary return of refugees.

Mr Mohamud will be among her opponents should both decide to run all the way to election day.

Incumbent Mohamed Farmaajo, ex-president Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, former Galmudug president Abdikarim Guled and former prime minister Hassan Khaire are the other contenders she might face.

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