Monday, December 28, 2015

Somalia's First Woman Presidential Candidate Inspired By Rwanda's Recovery Process
By Collins Mwai
The New Times

The Federal Republic of Somalia is among African countries that are scheduled to have elections in the coming year. Among the persons who have put their names forward as candidates is Fadumo Dayid, the country's first female candidate.

Dayid, who currently resides in Finland where she moved in the early 1990s as a refugee, presents her candidature at a time when her country is not only going through civil strife but also insurgency from Al Shabaab terror group. She was recently in Rwanda for the High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Human rights and governance in Africa.

The New Times' Collins Mwai caught up with her and she shared her thoughts on the prospects of her country Somalia, her candidacy, women's role in leadership, and Rwanda.

Below are the excerpts:

Among the purposes of the forum you were attending was to look into reasons why women have not been very active in politics on the continent. As a politician, what are the reasons behind this?

I am not a politician in a sense that I do not make a livelihood out of politics; I am not a career politician. I am a lay person who feels that the time has come for us to take power and responsibility from politicians because they are not doing what they set out to do. Rather than sit and complain, I am of the opinion that we take charge.

In terms of why women are not very visible in politics, why their numbers are negligible in some societies, including Somalia, it is because some societies have not realised that in order for a country to progress and have sustainable development and peace, they must ensure participation of both women and youth in the development programmes.

Women also face cultural, structural and institutional barriers in some communities, in some societies it is a combination of factors and in others it is individual barriers.

It is not easy for women to be active in politics in some communities. For instance, just by declaring my candidacy for presidency, it has resulted into getting death threats.

This discourages women from political ambitions.

As a scholar, have you validated the belief that countries that include women in governance tend to witness faster development compared to those that do not?

They do and a good example is Rwanda. 21 years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, by ensuring that women are active agents of development, social affairs and politics, Rwanda has become a beacon of hope in Africa.

You can see the inclusion of women everywhere in this country. Research has shown that societies where women are active in politics, public and private sectors, there is faster progress. Another example is some Scandinavian and European countries.

In your time in Rwanda, are there any valuable models, lessons and case studies you would borrow to rebuild Somalia if you took office?

There are similarities between Somalia and Rwanda in terms of post conflict situations. I would remodel Somalia basing on Rwanda. There are a number of things that I admire about Rwanda and its citizens; unity, emphasis on democratic governance, and development.

These are the values I would seek to build on as the foundation of Somalia. In terms of economic development, there are so many things that Somalia can learn from Rwanda, in terms of democratic governance, peace and security.

First and foremost, of ultimate importance would be to learn the democratic governance.

How is it that a country that has experienced a genocide that took over a million lives has been able to bounce back on its feet and moved forward in unity? How have the players been able to make the country function?

I arrived in Rwanda at 2 am. As I went to Kigali Serena Hotel from the Kigali International Airport, I saw people walking around peacefully. The streets were clean and everything was in order.

After speaking to a number of Rwandans, I realised that there is no reference to 'I' it is 'we'. I would like to learn how Rwanda has been able to build such cohesiveness, which is where the solution lies for Somalia. We have to put aside differences and rather have people become patriots.

Another factor I admired about Rwanda is how the country manages development partners support as it heads towards economic sustainability. The country has a national development plan and when donors come in, it is clear for them where their support will be necessary as per the national agenda.

The country identifies its needs and where funding should go. It lays ground for partnership.

You are walking away from a good corporate career and a comfortable life abroad to join politics back home; what drives you?

Because I love Somalia. I have lived in the Diaspora since 1990, but I knew my roots were in Somalia.

I moved to Finland as a refugee and I was sure that one day I would go back to Somalia. To me, being a refugee didn't mean I should never be back to my homeland.

I watched from the sidelines as the country lost it, women died unnecessarily, children died of treatable diseases, elders neglected, among other injustices. I thought that I do not need to do this but feel that it is my moral obligation and civic duty.

If we all give up, what will become of our country? I am compelled to choose between death and life, if that need be, so that at least we can have a peaceful country.

I would like to go home, over 1.2 million Somalis would like to go home from the Diaspora, there are one million people who are internally displaced and they all want a dignified existence in their own country.

I believe if one dies fighting for something they believe in, that's the most dignified death.

Some political commentators have said that the odds are stacked against you in the coming election, you probably know it too, in the event that it doesn't work out for you, what's next?

My ultimate goal is not 2016; it is not to become president. My ultimate goal is not to get into power; my ultimate goal is to instigate social change by challenging the current status quo. In a country, continent and society like mine where a woman's space is mostly considered to be in a private place, at home, my candidacy inspires a lot of women, young girls as well as the youths.

They get to see that they do not have to stay in that small box where they have been put; they get to see that they have the power to decide their destiny and future. It is also important for them to realise that you can become a leader regardless of your financial background or influence of your family.

I am a catalyst; my aim is to open doors for my children and their children for social change. In that regard, I have already won. It is already yielding results, not only in Somalia or Africa but across the world. Wherever I go I get people who tell me that I inspired them to think big and beyond status quo.

What will it take to restore total order in Somalia?

One of the reasons why I am running for president is to change the narrative, the one that refers to Somalia as a failed state of aggressive people. I want to change the narrative, to show the positive side.

For us to get our act together, we will need to foster cohesiveness and unity. We can only do that when we eradicate the differences, when we put Somalia and Somali's ahead of our own individual interests.

That we will not be able to do until we discuss the atrocities that we have committed, we have to atone for the sins committed over the long period of civil conflict.

Part of Somalia's greatest problem which has also spilled over to neighbouring countries is Al Shabaab, how did they come about and what do you figure is the best way to neutralise them?

Al Shabaab is able to recruit the youth because they address social economic issues; they exist because they create the impression that they address injustices they see.

They initially came in as a force to protect the country because at the time, the country was at risk of attack by some neighbouring countries. It enabled Al Shaabab to be formed taking on the role of the national armed forces considering that we did not have one.

The notorious pirates in the Coast of Mogadishu were initially guarding the seas from illegal fishing and disposal of toxic substances. They came in to defend the country before they began kidnapping people and hijacking ships for profit.

Going by official number, Somalia has a population of about 12 million people of which 80 per cent are under the age of 35 years and of that, 67 per cent are unemployed. Without education, vocational skills and without an opportunity to earn an honest living, they are very likely to go join terrorist groups and Piracy. This is how the youth have been used wrongly and denied a dignified existence where they can work.

We can, however, spin this, we turn this around and address the disparities and Al Shabaab will have no traction in society.

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