When Somalia’s former foreign minister Fawzia Yusuf Haji Adam announced her candidacy for president in the next elections, the reaction in Mogadishu was mostly muted.
Yet Ms Adam, from a prominent family of scholars, is not just testing the waters. She may well be testing the rigidity of an age-old culture.
If the federal electoral commission accepts her candidacy, she will be only the second woman in Somalia’s history to contest the presidency.
In 2004, Asha Ahmed Abdalla sought Somalia’s top leadership position. That vote was held in distant Kenyan capital Nairobi as Mogadishu then was an arena for warlords.
And during an election contest that took place at Kasarani Stadium at the end of reconciliation midwifed by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) and Kenya, she lost after the first round of voting by a 275-member federal parliament.
Somalia’s politicians had been gathering in Mbagathi. When they agreed on an indirect election through delegates, three voting rounds were needed.
Col Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was elected and proceeded to restore the presidential seat at Villa Somalia in December 2006, before quitting the post two years later.
There are many similarities between that vote and the polls planned for October 10.
One is that Somalia has failed to organise universal suffrage. So leaders still have to jostle for delegates who elect MPs, who in turn elect the president.
Only that the Mbagathi reconciliation meant Somalia’s transitional federal government at the time was governing from Kenya, had no idea what the capital Mogadishu was like and the president was basically chosen by a handful of influential clan elders without input from anyone else.
Powerful clan elders
Today, those clan elders are still powerful and have helped nominate delegates in consultation with the electoral commission, as well as blessing or rejecting candidates.
For Ms Adam, 69, her decision to run for president, she argued, was not to stand out of the crowd but because the pace of development had been sorely slow and she wants to do something about it. She vowed to mobilise resources.
“My sole aim is to breathe a new lease of life into Somalia. Our political ideology and beliefs are at the heart and soul of our political trajectory in deciding the best way forward for my nation,” she said.
A member of parliament in the expiring legislature, Ms Adam stormed to stardom in 2012 after Hassan Sheikh Mohamud appointed her minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation and named her deputy prime minister.
She remains the only Somali woman to have held that position.
Her campaign team says she is running on the National Democratic Party ticket and will chair the Hiigsi coalition. She wants to run on issues that cement “nationhood” including “durable peace, justice and development”.
She will face incumbent Mohamed Farmaajo, former Galmudug president Abdikarim Guled, former presidents Mr Mohamud and Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, former prime minister Hassan Khaire and former lawmaker Abdikadir Ali Osoble, who are seen as frontrunners for the seat.
She faces two challenges. One is she is female in a male-dominated polity where only elites with money have been voted in. Under influential clan elders, the Somali political scene has largely remained conservative, as seen when leaders haggled over the 30 per cent allocation of seats to women.
There has been no clarity on how seats will be allocated to women to achieve the threshold, but at least the outgoing parliament had seen about 24 per cent seats go to women.
Still, some clan elders have openly rejected the idea of quotas for women or even giving them a chance at all.
Ms Adam, though prominent in the early years of Mr Mohamud’s rule, was born in Hargeisa, Somaliland. In Somalia’s tense clan politics, people from Somaliland hardly crack it in the presidency in Somalia, given Somaliland’s continual declaration of (unrecognised) independence from Somalia.
Somalilanders who choose one Somalia have often landed the prime minister’s post or deputies. The indirect elections also cost lots of money and candidates have to move round, by air, seeking to get as many favourable delegates as possible to elect MPs, who are then required to elect the president.
Hoping to shine
Having reached the highest political office ever achieved by a Somali woman, Ms Adam’s ambition now is to rule the Horn of Africa country. Her hope is to shine in a race crowded by men.
Ms Adam is armed with a significant diplomatic career. She had joined the foreign service in the 1980s, serving in different offices in the Somali ministry of foreign affairs as well as in missions in other foreign countries.
During her tenure as foreign minister and deputy premier, she rubbed shoulders with top diplomats around the world.
Somalis may remember her for attempting to help in returning Somalia’s assets seized abroad after they were illegally grabbed when the country fell to warlords.