Fadumo Dayib is the first woman to run for president of Somalia. And she has some pretty high expectations of what she would like to achieve if she’s elected president of a country that’s faced over two decades of instability.
Her nickname Deeqo means “sufficient” and was given to her because she was the first child in the family to survive. There were eleven kids born before, all of whom died of preventable diseases. This identity—the 12th child—is at the root of her motivation to serve humanity by devoting her career to the health and, now, running for office.
Dayib was born in Thika, Kenya where her mother migrated after losing her kids. They were deported back to Somalia in 1989. When the civil war started in Somalia in 1990 Dayib fled to Finland with her sibling as unaccompanied minors. Here she spent 26 years as a refugee but always with her Somali roots in mind.
Living in Finland, she says, has given her many privileges that she wouldn’t likely have had in her own country. She wasn’t fully literate until age 14. Since then, Dayib has received several degrees in international public health, including one from Harvard University. Currently she is a doctoral candidate at the University of Helsinki.
Somalia is still very male-dominated, so when Dayib announced her bid for president, many people had a hard time believing it. Contrary to expectations, Dayib believes that as president, she will be the one to put an end to the Al-Shabab rebellion.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Placide Magambo for Okayafrica: What was the motivation behind your decision to run for president of Somalia?
Fadumo Dayib: I will do this even if it means my death, because it is my civic duty. It is a moral obligation for us to make sure our country becomes a safe place. I am running because the change we are looking for is in us. I am that change. If I continue sitting here in the west, in this comfortable place hoping that somebody will drop from the sky with magical solutions for Somalia, that day would never arrive. I will die in this place and my children will never have a country to come back to.
What challenges have you faced since leaving Somalia?
The main challenge is this constant homesickness. You’re not at ease when you know that something is missing. The more you stay in these countries the stronger that notion gets, that despite all these challenges, despite all these problems, I have a place for people like me that I can go back to. I just don’t know when.
The other challenge is really integrating into the host society because I came from an African, from a Somali, a Muslim culture. Coming to a very liberal and cold place, to people who are very introverted, that was in itself a cultural shock. Coming from a warm climate to a cold one, from a culture that is communal, extroverted to a very individualistic closed society. Coming from a place where religion is placed above everything else. Coming to a country where secularism or atheism is the main thing. Those were the things.
What should Somalis expect from you when you become their next president?
The first night I spent in a Finnish hotel, I knew that I was going to study because by then I had less than five years of educational foundation. I was going to go as far as possible. I was going to work. I was going to do everything possible to integrate into this society with the notion that I would leave one day so I needed to get everything that I could take back home. People ask me, “what are you bringing back?” I don’t have suitcases of money but I can come back with tools and skills and education.
I knew one day I would go back. I was hoping that we would get a leader who would unite the Somalis around a common theme, who would stabilize the country, and allow us to come back. As I spent more years in this country—I’ve had children in this country—I’ve understood and realized that the puzzle I’m actually waiting for is me, that I am the key. I am the change that I’m looking for. I needed to step forward and say no, we cannot rely on other people to come and save us. If we have the motivation, we have the belief then we should go and do it.
Photo by Chris Schwagga
What do you say to those who would say that Somalis in the diaspora, like you, have lost your Somali values?
What I’m trying to say is that one cannot accuse people who they forced out of the country as young children as having lived in the diaspora for 26 years. It was not by choice. It was by force. We were forced to leave the country. These values, the West talks about human rights and it talks about democracy. It has a strong work ethic and particularly in these Scandinavian countries where there is a very strong welfare system whereby the people who are less of taken care of, where equality is promoted, that all human beings are equal regardless of their religion, their orientation, their ethnicity and class and creed and all of that. I strongly believe in that and that is a very critical issue in Somalia where power is allocated to four main clans and where the minority clans like the Somali Bantus and others aren’t being treated the same.
We had to flee. There is almost 1.5 million Somalis in the diaspora. Internally, there are a million more people who have been scattered because of this perverted way of interpreting the religion to cause mischief and havoc. If you just look at Al-Shabaab and you look at other neighboring countries, the figure is astonishingly high. Here from the West you also learn about equity and equality. How do you share resources so that all parts of a country equally developed?
Corruption comes from the fact that we do not have a strong work ethic. We do not have a servant leadership in place whereby you understand your vocational calling in life is to serve people… We need to understand that leadership is about getting on the knees and serving the people who put you in office so that they are well-off compared to you.
These are the values I want to bring. I don’t think these values would be strange to Somalis. I think 99 percent of the Somali population wants these kinds of principles instilled in the country because they know they stand to gain from it, not the politicians.
Don’t you see yourself going back to Somalia as taking a risk?
No. I see opportunities everywhere. I see prosperity. I see a country that has attained peace. I see people who are proud to call themselves Somalis and who live a dignified existence. This is what I see every morning, every night, every waking hour of the day. This is the image that calls to me, it’s like a dream. If given the opportunity, Somalia would be one of the best countries in Africa, if not in the world. We are a very creative people. We are business-minded people. We are people who can make customs out of stumps if given the opportunity.
You said that you are willing to have a dialogue with Al-Shabaab. Why would you negotiate with a group affiliated with international terrorism?
Al-Shabaab flourishes because the government is corrupt; because the government isn’t doing its job; because the government isn’t providing security; because the government isn’t creating jobs; because the government isn’t serving the people. Then Al-Shabaab steps forward and tries to give the services that the government is supposed to give to the people. They address socioeconomic issues which the government is unable to do and as long as these people have this weapon over our heads they will continue to recruit young people, they will continue to recruit all the people, even women to continue destabilizing the country.
How are you going to enter into that kind of negotiations?
The first thing is to invite them to the peace table, provided they disarm, provided they stop killing people, provided they renounce their affiliation with international terrorism. Once they do those three things then we will sit down with them and have a dialogue. By sitting down with them and having a dialogue you will also eliminate those entities that capitalize on the name of Al-Shabaab… Once we neutralize this entity then we will deal with the other criminal elements whether be it in piracy or in other areas that always hide under the guise of Al-Shabaab. By sitting down with Al-Shabaab we shall find out which other entities are involved in the destabilization of the country.
If we have to choose between the potential deaths of 12 million Somalis compared to negotiating with a few thousand Al-Shabaabs then we will go for the greater good of preserving the lives of 12 million Somalis.
We have seen that even when the African Union went into Somalia—with all the troops that it has and its military support—it has not been able to even take back the areas that Al-Shabaab has taken. With all the billions of Euros that the European Union is investing in African Union, we’ve seen that they’ve not been able to make progress in securing the country. When you are behind a fortress like the African Union and all these other international partners are they live behind a fortress. The ones who would have to deal with Al-Shabaab and who are killed everyday are Somalis who live amongst these people.
Unfortunately, we do not have the military means to win the fight with Al-Shabaab. We do not have the financial means to do that. We do not have the ideological means to do that. Therefore, the only option for us is to sit down with them and start negotiations. Ultimately, they’re Somalis, we are Somalis, these are our brothers, they are our sons, they are our fathers, they are our grandfathers and husbands. These are our people. We will reconcile. If we really want to move the country forward then this is the only viable option. All else has failed, even the African Union has failed in stabilizing the country.
Do you think that regional integration like the East African Community could be the sustainable peace solution in Somalia?
Why not? If South Sudan is in there, why not Somalia? I think it is about time that Somalia is not only seen as a threat—as that sick child that never recovers. When you come around as an African brother and sister and you come to stand side by side with your Somali brothers or sisters and you let them know that we’re here no matter what, this is a very strong message that will also resonate with the people and that will also revive Africanism in Somalia. This is something that is very serious because when people start losing their identity and they actually believe that they are Arabs and they start acting in a particular way, then I think we have lost the fight as a continent.
People remember, they have long memories when we were in the situation, Kenya and the East African community came to us and they stood by our side and they helped us. This is what we need not Ethiopia invading, not Kenya bringing in troops, not the country being balkanized.
For example, when we are having these elections they can say, how can we help you? Kenya has a somewhat functional electoral system. They have a wonderful constitution. This is the kind of things you can help the country with. How do you do elections? How do you do a viable census of the people? How do you give them national identity cards? How do people vote? What does that entail? Really basic things. How do you build a country from scratch? How do you ensure that rule of law is working? How do you get governance structures revived and so forth?
When we talk about this integration it should be seen at the practical level and not always about business but really also doing things that are on civic level and also ensuring that the countries become functional.
How are you gonna adapt your plan for the success of your country’s future to the religious values of your people?
I can be an African and I can still be a Muslim. I think we need to understand that the continent became Muslim long before the Arabs themselves took the religion—when you look back at the history that we do not give up our Africanism to be Muslims. We are first and foremost Africans and we are Muslims. I do not have to dress like an Arab, I do not have to look like an Arab, I don’t have to sound like an Arab. I don’t have to speak like an Arab in order for me to be a Muslim.
This is the Arabization that I’m talking about. We are a continent that is diverse with all the richness that it has in its human, the abundance of different cultures and everything and that is how we should continue to be. We should not forget where we are coming from. For example, you hear of instances where children are playing during recess and they speak in their mother tongue and you hear of a child speaking in Somalia being whipped. Why are you speaking Somali when you should be speaking Arabic? We do not want this kind of neo-colonization of the continent. A child can speak in Somali. They can dress as a Somali. They can do whatever they want in their country and they will not be beaten for it.
Do you see some success stories during the four years of the current president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud that you would start with in case you are elected?
I don’t. By the way, research actually shows that president is supposed to be efficient and often is efficient on the first term. Once they are in office on the second term they do not actually achieve quite a lot of things and after that it is just downwards from there. I believe that one term is enough, particularly in the context of Somalia where now we have the president who is an incumbent running for the presidency again. This is despite this president having failed delivering all of the goals that he has promised. He has not been able to meet any of the deliverables in vision 2016 document that he said he was going to implement and achieve. Therefore, his first term is an indication of the failures that the country is going to face if he stays on in the office because if he didn’t do anything the first four years, what is he going to do in the next four years to come?
Now for making constitutional breaches to now silencing free press, already we are seeing dictatorial behavior from this president. If he continues for the next four years we know that the country is going to be thrown back into a civil war.
What do you think of Presidency term limits, especially in some African countries where Presidents are on power for decades and want to stay there forever?
African presidents have a track record of not producing results they should not stay in office until they die there. This is not a monarchy. We are not talking about a kingdom. As they claim they’re in a democratic system, they should be there only for the first four years. If the first four years show that this person hasn’t been able to actually meet the goals that they’ve set then this person is in the wrong place they should not be holding on to that seat. I think African leaders need to understand this is not a permanent contract. You’re not in a workplace where you are working there for 68 years or 64 years and then you die or either you retire. This is a country. You do not run it like a private organization or as a business enterprise.
I don’t want to think too much of myself. One of things I would do is when I get into office is really maturate potential leadership and making sure that the right people are sitting in the right places so that when the time comes to leave after four years, then they can step forward and take it from there. This is very important because when you are there for four years, Placide, then you do not become part of a system, part of a structure.
We have a way of leading, a Somali way of leading. This is what we are now going to try and make sure that it is a just, equal and equitable leadership style… This is what we want and anything outside of that that is western influence or Arab influence is a foreign concept to us. This is my approach, home grown solutions the problems in the country.
How would you explain your plan to stabilize the Somali’s economy?
Somalia is a very resource-rich country. I mean if you look at our natural resources, the country is sitting on oil and gas fields. We have a booming agricultural sector that despite the civil war and all this instability and all the problems that we’ve had we’re still functioning. We have a robust livestock sector that still exports livestock. We are the second or if not the first country in the continent that exports livestock to the Middle East. We have our industry, manufacturing industry especially, still running. We have some of factories that are functional. We have a rich sea life. We have a lot of things going on for us. Then the biggest resource that we have is the social capital that the country has 75 percent of the population is under the age of 35. This is a youth dividend that we have. Whereas western countries are aging, we have a youthful population. One that when it is properly educated and given livelihood skills that can actually be productive, that can become productive citizens and who can pay back taxes and make sure that the country is running effectively. That is the biggest capital that we have.
What’s missing from the current government that you will focus on?
Somalia is very reliant on aid. It is heavily reliant on aid not because Somalia is poor or because we don’t have resources. It is because we’re too lazy to do proper budget forecasting and using our resources strategically. Again, it comes to poor planning and to really not having proper priorities for the country.
As I said, the sea life when you get to the fishing or canning and putting it, the tuna that we have and exporting it and selling it, there’s so many ways that we can create jobs and by creating jobs you are actually increasing revenue. When you increase revenue because you’re also taxing and that increased revenue can be used to reconstruct, rebuild the country, the basic infrastructure, the schools, the health care and all of that, but it can also be used to create more jobs so that everybody has a gainful employment or livelihood. I see also really strengthening the telecommunication sector that we have which is one of the strongest in Africa. Almost the majority of the Somalis are able to do their banking online.
This is what I would pay a lot of attention to. I would encourage the private sector to play a very strong role also in the public sector. I would encourage young people to carve their future for themselves not to only think that working for somebody else is the only means of getting a livelihood but also helping them to realize their dreams by giving them small loan so that they can start their own businesses. This is, in a nutshell, this is how I would go about revitalizing the economy and then of course, through part of this integration program with East Africa really making sure that our borders are open and that we’re able to do business together in a way that is healthy for East Africa but also for the continent.
Placide Magambo is a multimedia journalist and researcher with experience working for large international organizations and various New York and African media outlets. His special passion is covering topics related to sustainable development, human rights and socio-economic issues.