Somalia needs a mother's nurturing

Asha Abdalla’s quest to become Africa’s first female president.

Luke Disney | November 2003 issue
She could have gone back. With dual American-Somali citizenship, a university education and a strong résumé, Asha Ahmed Abdalla would have had little trouble returning to the comfortable life she had enjoyed since she and her husband immigrated to the United States in the 1970s.
Instead she decided to run for president of Somalia, a daring step for a female in a country where traditionally politics has been dominated by men and rivalries settled by violence.
Since her return to Somalia three years ago, Abdalla has held different posts in Somalia’s Transitional National Government, including her current position as Minister for Demobilisation, Disarmament, Reintegration and Disabled Care. Now she is in the top three of more than forty candidates for the presidency of Somalia. She faces tough competition, including Hussein Aideed, heir to the infamous warlord General Mohammed Farah Aideed.
Abdalla is convinced that her native country’s future lies in the hands of its women. Her campaign slogan is ‘Give Somalia a Mother’s Nurturing’, and empowering women stands at number 10 in her 12-point agenda for Somalia. ‘Look what the men have done for the last years: killing, killing and more killing,’ she says hotly.
Care for children and the disabled are also important issues for the 45-year-old mother of three. ‘Somali children have suffered terribly. They need to be saved from the warlords, who use them while they send their own families to enjoy a safe life in other countries.’
She has worked hard to get where she is: ‘I’m a peacemaker by nature. Many people thought that a Muslim woman shouldn’t be allowed to hold such position. But I took a copy of the Koran and went and talked to them. I said, “Show me where it says that I can’t do this.” Now more and more people are starting to accept and support me.’
Just who gets to fill the post of president, and the 351 seats of parliament, will be determined at the ongoing Somalia National Reconciliation Conference being held on neutral territory in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference is organised by the seven-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which has conflict resolution in the Horn of Africa as one of its primary aims. It has brought together Somalia’s various warlords and power factions to lay the foundation for a permanent peaceful solution to the bitter civil war that has wracked the country since 1991.
Abdalla is optimistic about her chances: ‘Women in Somalia are not immediately associated with one of the clans, who are constantly fighting to keep each other out of power.’ But the presidency is not her main goal, ‘What is important is that this conference succeeds. Every day this conference drags on longer, more children die. And we will succeed, because we all know that we cannot go back to how it was.’
Asked, she says her family, who still live in the US, support her efforts. ‘In other words, they’re scared for me,’ says Abdalla. Somalia is a dangerous place. Abdalla has received several death threats. Apparently some factions were not happy with what they saw as an attempt to take away part of their power base.
Her candidacy for president has done little to assuage those fears. ‘My friends thought I was crazy,’ laughs Abdalla. ‘Other people thought I was a spy for the US. But I’m not worried about it; I am who I am and when I go, I go. It’s God’s will.’
 

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Somalia needs a mother's nurturing

Asha Abdalla’s quest to become Africa’s first female president.

Luke Disney | November 2003 issue
She could have gone back. With dual American-Somali citizenship, a university education and a strong résumé, Asha Ahmed Abdalla would have had little trouble returning to the comfortable life she had enjoyed since she and her husband immigrated to the United States in the 1970s.
Instead she decided to run for president of Somalia, a daring step for a female in a country where traditionally politics has been dominated by men and rivalries settled by violence.
Since her return to Somalia three years ago, Abdalla has held different posts in Somalia’s Transitional National Government, including her current position as Minister for Demobilisation, Disarmament, Reintegration and Disabled Care. Now she is in the top three of more than forty candidates for the presidency of Somalia. She faces tough competition, including Hussein Aideed, heir to the infamous warlord General Mohammed Farah Aideed.
Abdalla is convinced that her native country’s future lies in the hands of its women. Her campaign slogan is ‘Give Somalia a Mother’s Nurturing’, and empowering women stands at number 10 in her 12-point agenda for Somalia. ‘Look what the men have done for the last years: killing, killing and more killing,’ she says hotly.
Care for children and the disabled are also important issues for the 45-year-old mother of three. ‘Somali children have suffered terribly. They need to be saved from the warlords, who use them while they send their own families to enjoy a safe life in other countries.’
She has worked hard to get where she is: ‘I’m a peacemaker by nature. Many people thought that a Muslim woman shouldn’t be allowed to hold such position. But I took a copy of the Koran and went and talked to them. I said, “Show me where it says that I can’t do this.” Now more and more people are starting to accept and support me.’
Just who gets to fill the post of president, and the 351 seats of parliament, will be determined at the ongoing Somalia National Reconciliation Conference being held on neutral territory in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference is organised by the seven-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which has conflict resolution in the Horn of Africa as one of its primary aims. It has brought together Somalia’s various warlords and power factions to lay the foundation for a permanent peaceful solution to the bitter civil war that has wracked the country since 1991.
Abdalla is optimistic about her chances: ‘Women in Somalia are not immediately associated with one of the clans, who are constantly fighting to keep each other out of power.’ But the presidency is not her main goal, ‘What is important is that this conference succeeds. Every day this conference drags on longer, more children die. And we will succeed, because we all know that we cannot go back to how it was.’
Asked, she says her family, who still live in the US, support her efforts. ‘In other words, they’re scared for me,’ says Abdalla. Somalia is a dangerous place. Abdalla has received several death threats. Apparently some factions were not happy with what they saw as an attempt to take away part of their power base.
Her candidacy for president has done little to assuage those fears. ‘My friends thought I was crazy,’ laughs Abdalla. ‘Other people thought I was a spy for the US. But I’m not worried about it; I am who I am and when I go, I go. It’s God’s will.’
 

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