A Refugee Becomes Somalia’s First Female Presidential Candidate

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October 12, 2016; Guardian

“If loving my land means I die, so be it.”—Fadumo Dayib

Leyla Hussein, a Somali psychotherapist and social activist, interviewed for the Guardian Somalia’s first female presidential candidate, Fadumo Dayib. Elections are expected in November 2016.

Dayib, 43, is the daughter of uneducated Somali parents. Her father, a truck driver, and her mother, a “nomad,” fled the violence in Somalia to neighboring Kenya, where Dayib was born. Dayib, her mother and siblings were subsequently arrested and deported back to Somalia. As Somalia descended into further chaos, Dayib’s mother, who had already lost 11 children, arranged for Dayib and her two siblings to leave the country. Dayib was reunited with her mother in Finland through a family reunification program, and her mother spent the last years of her life in Helsinki, learning to read and write at the age of 68 before her death in 1995.

Dayib worked in Somalia for six months setting up maternal health clinics before the UN evacuated her over security concerns. She also worked for the UN in Fiji and Liberia, where she helped set up HIV prevention offices and trained health care providers. Dayib currently works in Helsinki helping refugees arriving in Finland to find work.

Living in Finland, she says, gives her many privileges she wouldn’t have had in her own country, and she wants to extend these to women and girls back home. Dayib wasn’t fully literate until the age of 14 but now has several degrees in international public health, including one from Harvard, and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Helsinki.

Dayib plans to return to her homeland, a country engulfed in a civil war that continues to displace, kill, and wound its civilians. Restrictions on humanitarian access persist and exacerbate the human rights and humanitarian crises. The Islamist armed group Al-Shabaab maintains control of large areas of south-central Somalia, where it administers public executions and beatings and restricts basic rights, and periodically carries out deadly attacks in government-controlled areas targeting civilians, including lawmakers and other officials. Somali’s own government security forces, African Union troops, and allied militias are reportedly responsible as well for indiscriminate attacks, sexual violence, and arbitrary arrests and detention.

Meanwhile, it was just revealed that the U.S. is using Special Operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors, and African allies to intensify its clandestine war in Somalia. “Hundreds of US troops now rotate through makeshift bases in Somalia, the largest military presence since the United States pulled out of the country after the ‘Black Hawk Down’ battle in 1993.”

Dayib admits that it is nearly impossible for her to be elected president under these circumstances. Her secondary plan is to establish “an independent panel to deal with corruption. She says it’s her duty to help rebuild the country, and is adamant that more Somali women should invest back in Somalia whether economically or through their skills as doctors, teachers or social workers.”

Dayib’s very public presidential campaign, including announcing her candidacy on Somali TV and visiting universities, is already making a brave contribution to future generations of Somali women. During the Guardian interview, Dayib expressed sadness at “Islamophobia and the portrayal of Muslim women as voiceless and weak.” Dayib wants to promote what she deems to be true Islam, “the religion of peace.”

The 2016 Global Peace Index ranks Somalia as the fifth-most dangerous country in the world. Will Dayib, a mother of four children, survive the many death threats she already receives?

“I have a calling and purpose in this world,” she says. “We must stand and speak up against injustices, my family gets that, it’s not easy but this is who I am. If loving my land means I will die, so be it.”

For American voters increasingly feeling detached from the institutions underpinning civil society, consider the chaos and violence in Somalia. For those yearning for authenticity and courage from their leaders, for those longing for something more inspiring than X-rated presidential debates, this video of Dayib speaking to a large university audience about her journey and her aspiration to lead her country offers the inspiration and dignity that would make any country proud.—James Schaffer