Speaking to TRT World, Somalia’s first female foreign minister and deputy prime minister talks about what it takes to be a woman politician in her country.
Fawzia Yusuf Adam entered the pages of Somali political history as a woman who broke the political glass ceiling. Her aim is to go down in history as a striking political figure who became Somalia’s first female president.
”I know the problems we are having. I know all of them. I know where to start to solve them. I think a woman like me who knows, who experienced can lead this country precisely.” Adam told TRT World over a video call.
As a daughter of a diplomat father, Adam got exposed to politics way back in her childhood. Her father, Yusuf Haji Adam, was the first diplomat to represent Somalia in the Arab world, paving the way for her daughter to continue the legacy of firsts.
”I’m a daughter of a freedom fighter, a diplomat, and an educationalist. He was my inspiration.”
Born in Somaliland, Adam spent her high school and college years in Sudan where her father led a diplomatic mission. She followed in her father’s footsteps and became a diplomat. While working for the Somali Embassy in Washington D.C., she simultaneously continued her education at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), completing her master’s degree in International Public Policy in 1979.
During this period, she married Abukar M. Liban, who was also a diplomat and a general in the Somali army. They later had three children.
”I worked in Moscow and Washington in different positions and the last position as a diplomat was becoming head of our embassy in Berlin, Germany. But then, I resigned and became an officer at the UN Economic Commission for Africa in Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa.”
Adam bade farewell to diplomacy at a time when a territorial conflict called the Puntland-Somaliland dispute erupted in 1998. As an officer at the UN Economic Commission for Africa, she closely monitored the dispute, which eventually morphed into a full-blown endless war between the two sides.
Adam believed that she could contribute to the development of her beloved country with the NGO called SOMAID, which she had founded back in the early 1990s for education purposes.
”Throughout this devastating time, my purpose was to raise and deal with thousands of orphans in different cities. And eventually, I did”
Amid this conflict, the bombing of one of the NGO’s centres became a turning point for her to get back to her hometown. The hope of doing something for her country was spurring her. Ultimately, she made one of the essential initiatives for her country by single-handedly establishing the Hargeisa University in 2000. She became the university’s first chancellor for five years. Later, she became one of the CEOs of the RAAD TV channel which was created to broadcast Somalia’s different angle to the world. Adam aspired to contribute to the progress of her country by doing everything she could.
But, returning to Somaliland was not an easy decision. Her husband was ill and later passed away. It also meant being separated from her children who were in the UK at that time.
”To be honest, it was not easy. When I was establishing the university my husband was unwell. And I was having small kids. It was a challenge. But it never stopped me. I wanted to help those young people coming from the war, and prevent them to go back to conflict.”
”There was no university in Hargeisa at that time. And I was doing everything I could to make sure that the institution formed. I was flying back and forth to London because my kids were small.”
”People would tell me what is wrong with you and I would tell them, you know what? I’m dreaming to see the graduation of this university. That’s how I made it possible. And what I see now is stabilizing Somalia in 3 years.”
Adam’s active political role was triggered by the political and armed conflicts in Somaliland. She started to become aware of an urgent need for change. Therefore, she formed a political party called NBD (Peace, Democracy and Prosperity Party) and ran for president in Somaliland in 2010. But her party was delisted by the then President Ahmed Mahmud Silanyo.
”They closed down the TV channel, they nationalized the university, and rejected my political party. They were preventing me from becoming active and serving my country. They were afraid a woman like me might win the election as I was becoming popular. I was a threat. That triggered me to become more active in politics.”
A feminine stance against patriarchy
Adam held street protests with her university’s student union against what she saw as a violation of her rights as a citizen. And this move resulted in detention.
”They detained me and 12 people that I was leading. Then we were released in a short time. They wanted to make me a bit frightened.”
All these struggles inspired her to go further. And eventually, after a year, a game-changing development happened both for her and the country as a whole.
In 2012, when Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected as Somalia’s president, Adam made history by becoming the country’s first woman Foreign Minister and then Deputy Prime Minister.
The appointment of Adam was a brave move made by the fledgling government, defying the country’s patriarchal and conservative attitudes.
”I was the first deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Somalia. And I represented it very well. I knew what I was doing and was successful in my position. I think I set a good example for women with my achievements.”
However, being a woman in that position brought multiple challenges as her leadership was questioned because of gender taboo.
”Men were not accepting the leadership of a woman. Only a very few accepted me. Others resisted. They could not say much but, you could see the resistance. It was something that I wanted to share with my sisters. I wanted to show the women of the world that stopping is not a choice, we should always continue.”
Looking back, she remembers that all those difficulties made her more powerful. Now, as Somalia leads towards the presidential election which is scheduled for October, she aims for the top most office. She is the only female candidate to run for president in this year’s election as the head of National Democratic Party (NDP).
For Adam, despite the reality of a conservative society, her gender is an advantage to win the elections. Her gender is the exact key to provide peace, prosperity and stability to Somalia amid the Al-Shabab insurgency.
”Any woman who has the same experience, passion and courage as me can be a successful leader for this country. Because women have no corruption, women have no men-ego, we have the mother instinct and kindness. In my case, it all combined with the experiences and education.”
”Many mothers are losing their sons to Al Shabab militants every day. As a mother, it saddens me. People are frustrated. They want peace. I can say that I’m getting a lot of support from both men and women.”
Overcoming the clan-system
But what if the 4.5 based clan system overshadows Adam’s presidential ambitions? She admits that the system functions unfairly but for her, it is not completely decisive.
Simply put, the 4.5 system means the division of the Somali population into five groups along clan lines. Four of the five groups are the main clans, whereas the fifth group comprises all other clans and peoples not covered by the first four groups. This coalition group is worth half the value of each of the other four groups in terms of political representation.
”It is not a matter of the clan system. It is a matter of dealing with the right people at the right time. It is about showing confidence, and expressing that I’m not here for personal interest. I’m here cause I think our country should be rescued.”
Although Adam is very hopeful for the elections, she affirmed that no result will be a loss for her.
”I think for me it is a win-win situation either way. Because If I win, then we’ll get the opportunity to change and develop Somalia. But if I don’t win, it will mean I tried and another woman will also try by following me and eventually, one will be successful. I’m here to become an example for women by breaking this barrier between women and politics. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?’