Why I’m running for President of Somalia

Saturday October 15 2016

Ms Fatumo Dayib, a mother of four who has over the years made a name as an activist and public health expert, has now entered the world of politics, and it is proving to be a tough ride for her ahead of the transitional presidential elections scheduled for next month. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE

Ms Fatumo Dayib, a mother of four who has over the years made a name as an activist and public health expert, has now entered the world of politics, and it is proving to be a tough ride for her ahead of the transitional presidential elections scheduled for next month. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE 

By ELVIS ONDIEKI
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Fadumo Dayib is a study in resilience. As a teenager, she fled the Somali civil war in 1989 and sought asylum in Europe just months after her family was deported for living in Kenya illegally.

Today she has stirred the political scene in her motherland and attracted death threats – including from Al-Shabaab terrorists – for her determination to become the first female President in the war ravaged country.

But Ms Dayib vows to stay the course even though she is aware that the odds are against her.

Bringing change to her country is, for her, a calling she is prepared to die for if it comes to that.

It is a brave stance for someone who knows that the threats by those who believe women should not run for public office are real.

“I am apprehensive because I know they want to use me as an example and send a strong message to deter other women from running for public office,” she says.

But her spirit is unbroken.

Ms Dayib is a child of many worlds. She was born in Kenya’s industrial town of Thika in 1972 but, over the years, grew up in the coastal city of Mombasa and Nairobi’s vibrant Eastleigh estate while often travelling to her motherland before the government of President Daniel Moi deported her and hundreds of ethnic Somalis labelled “illegal immigrants” to Mogadishu.

At the age of 18, her mother would sell their property to send Ms Dayib and her siblings to Helsinki, Finland, to seek safety as a civil war raged. 

Ms Dayib, a mother of four who has over the years made a name as an activist and public health expert, has now entered the world of politics, and it is proving to be a tough ride for her ahead of the transitional presidential elections scheduled for next month.

In fact, there are those who question her eligibility, considering she was born in Kenya. 

“According to the Somali Constitution, anyone whose parents are both ethnically Somali and were born in Somalia can run for public office. So, I meet the criteria.

"Are we to say that the thousands who live in the diaspora or their children are not Somalis?” she says during the interview in Nairobi.

Ms Dayib declared her candidature in September 2014, attracting interest from all over the world.

MARCHING ORDERS

“Could this be Somalia’s first female president?” posed BBC in a headline of a June 2015 online report.

A British newspaper, The Guardian, said her campaign had already had an impact “raising her profile, prompting a broader discussion about women in Somalia, and, according to the candidate, showing the country’s 11 million inhabitants that there is an alternative to the existing political elite.”

As Ms Dayib’s presidential bid grabs global attention, looking at the 44-year-old’s story in numbers tells an interesting story: she spent a significant number of years living between Somalia and Kenya, before being forced to relocate to Somalia, and eventually seeking asylum in Finland where she has lived on-and-off for 26 years.

Ms Dayib considers Kenya special in her life story because by giving birth in Thika, her mother ensured the girl survived the childhood diseases that had killed the 11 children born before her in Somalia.

“My mother was married off at a very young age. She had 11 children who all died because of treatable conditions.

"So, she was told to leave and migrate, maybe to Kenya, and she might — who knows? — have children that stay alive,” she says.

TRUCK DRIVER

Her mother decided to relocate to Kenya after parting ways with her first husband.

At the port city of Kismayu, they met a truck driver who gave them a lift.

“On the way, he [driver] asked for my mother’s hand and her younger sibling gave her away,” Ms Dayib narrates.

“My mother and my father settled in Thika. He was a truck driver, mostly on the road,” she says.

She reckons that her parents’ stay in Kenya meant they were categorised as “illegal immigrants”.

Later on, the family moved to Mombasa, where her two siblings were born, before relocating to Nairobi’s Eastleigh.

“I don’t remember anything from Thika other than being told that I was once seriously ill and almost died and that I was taken to a Catholic hospital for treatment,” she says.

Her cogent memory of Kenya is when they lived along Nairobi’s Juja Road.

SCHOOLING

“Initially I went to Eastleigh Hall Primary School. They gave it that name because it was a huge hall which had different classes occupying the same space,” she says.

From there she attended the nearby New Eastleigh Primary School and has fond memories of her times there.

“That is where I actually learnt to perfect the art of reading and writing,” she says.

Her family’s stay in Kenya would, however, come to an abrupt end after the Moi government launched an offensive supposedly against illegal immigrants but which also affected Kenyan ethnic Somalis.

“We were deported along with first, second and third generation Kenyan Somalis who didn’t speak a word of the Somali language. Some of them had to be driven to the border and were told to walk,” she says.

But her family was fortunate after going to the Somali Embassy in Nairobi where they were issued with a white “boarding card” written “Go home”.

“That was basically the boarding pass to Somalia,” she says.

The directive from the Kenyan government meant the family had to pack and leave for Somalia in 1989.

“When we reached Mogadishu, we were holding refugee status when the war broke out,” she says.

TEMPORARY STATUS

In 1991, President Mohammed Siad Barre, who had taken over power in 1969 through a bloody coup, was eventually ousted.

This led to a series of inter-clan wars that claimed thousands of lives.

But even before the president was overthrown, residents were forced to look for money to fly out of Somalia.

The year before the coup as the war raged, Ms Dayib’s mother had to sell her property to raise money for the airlifting of her children on a Russian plane.

The mother stayed behind and would reunite with them in Finland after a couple of years.

CIVIL WAR

“At the time, everybody who had means was escaping from Somalia because of the civil war.

"And so she sold everything that she had to make sure that we would get on one of the last flights out of Mogadishu,” she says.

She adds: “And because we didn’t even have sufficient funding to negotiate with the Aeroflot personnel, I was delegated with the responsibility of reaching out and persuading a Russian man who was in charge of that office to help us to get on the flight.”

Her persuasion worked after she explained the plight of her family, prompting the airline official to allow her and her two siblings to travel. 

“He actually stopped the flight from leaving, took three people off and allowed us to get in,” Ms Dayib says.

FINLAND

That was how she found herself in Finland.

“We were put in a centre. It is not a refugee centre per se; it is almost like living in a five-star hotel compared to Dadaab, Kakuma or any other camp” she says. But despite the safe environment in Finland, she knew she would have to leave one day.

“When others unpacked their bags, I always knew I was going to go back home. To me, asylum was not a permanent status. I said, ‘I’m not going to be in a country that isn’t mine for the rest of my life’,” she says.

Driven by that determination, she enrolled as a vocational student in Finland, continuing from where she had stopped her education in Kenya.

“I did a diploma in auxiliary nursing. From there, I did a bachelor’s in nursing which was three-and-a-half years, then got into the Finnish University, started doing a Master’s in healthcare sciences then got a second Master’s in public health, and went to work for the United Nations (UN). I was based in Somalia while also living in Kenya, then went to Fiji then to Liberia,” she says.

DOCTORATE DEGREE

Now enrolled for a doctorate degree, Ms Dayib also lived in Kenya between 2005 and 2006, often taking time to relive the moments in the 1980s when her mother would take her around Nairobi during weekends, showing her places that she should aspire to work, shop and live.

“I couldn’t recognise the Eastleigh I found because I grew up in an Eastleigh that was very clean. In the 1980s it was a very beautiful place. It wasn’t that congested,” says Ms Dayib — who speaks Somali, Kiswahili, Finnish and English fluently.

Her UN work, which was related to public health and fighting HIV, saw her live in Somalia, Fiji, Liberia and Ghana.

But despite her fast-rising star, she has decided to go for the highest political office in Somalia as she believes her life is a mission and she has a moral obligation to bring change.

“I take my life as a vocational calling. The fact that my mother lost 11 children and I survived means that there is work that I need to do here, and that is to serve humanity,” she says.

CHANGE GOVERNANCE

Her decision to vie for the Somali presidency, she says, is to change what she perceives to be a bad system of governance, based on clans, “that has let ills thrive”. She calls it the 4.5-clan system because it encompasses the country’s four major groups and another 0.5 who are “marginalised clans, vulnerable clans who are relegated”.

“It’s a highly corrupt, incompetent, dysfunctional system and I don’t want to align myself with a system like that, or to claim that I come from one of these major clans or that I’m from the 0.5 because I don’t believe in that whole system,” she says.

“And, by the way, it is a system that also subjugates and silences women because the clans do not recognise women and it also silences the youth.”

Ms Dayib believes she has a solution to the Shabaab menace that has contributed to the degeneration of the volatile situation in Somalia.

The Somali-based group has also launched attacks against Kenya over the years, with the deadliest being at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, Mpeketoni in Lamu and Garissa University.

(S)ELECTION PROCESS

“I’ve said time and time again that my strategy is to negotiate with Al-Shabaab. I believe in peaceful dialogue. I don’t believe in violence because if violence were the solution to Somalia’s problems, if it could bring peace; Somalia would be the most peaceful country in the world,” she says.

“We also have to be cognisant of the fact that the Amisom (African Union Mission to Somalia) troops who have been there for some time, and are highly equipped, trained, and who are financed by the European Union and other international entities, have not been able to fully prevent attacks from Al-Shabaab.”

She believes that Al-Shabaab has been thriving due to rampant unemployment and uneven resource distribution.

Ms Dayib also wishes Kenya could treat ethnic Somalis better.

“Although now you see prominent politicians in the government, still I would urge the administration, whichever administration that comes to office, that they really must work hard on strengthening those ties and giving Kenyan-Somalis more prominence and opportunities,” she says.

Besides President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Ms Dayib, others who have expressed interest in the Somali presidency include Abdirahman Mohamed Farole, Omar Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, Abdirahaman Abdishakur Warsame, Yassin Mahi Mallin and Mohamed Ali Nur. Some of them have previously held key government positions.

CHALLENGES

The presidential elections were initially scheduled for October 30 but were pushed forward by a month.

The chairman of Somalia’s Federal Indirect Electoral Implementation Team, Mr Omar Mohamed Abdulle, issued a statement last month saying there were security and political challenges among other shortcomings.

“The date will be November 30 but the likelihood of those elections being postponed is very high. Some sources speak of these elections taking place sometime in January next year. And so it remains to be seen,” says Ms Dayib.

In the last elections, held in 2012, the President was chosen by representatives elected by clan elders.

Though there were indications that the system would change in 2016 in favour of the one-man-one-vote system, Ms Dayib believes the elder-based system will be used again.

NOT A DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM

“The elections – or as I call them, the selections – are not a democratic system. We don’t do elections the conventional way, the way you would do it in Kenya or any other country where people submit their candidature,” she says.

“In 2012, it was in a way that 135 elders would select 275 Members of Parliament who would then go on to select the president … We have reverted back to the 4.5 clan-based electoral system and that means, because we couldn’t have one-person-one-vote elections, what we are going to have is what is called an enhanced democracy — halfway to democracy.”

This, she explains, is why she has not launched any campaigns in Somalia.

“Had these been really democratic elections, I would be on the ground visiting, talking to potential voters and campaigning like you would see in any other democratic country. But unfortunately, what happens now is lobbying... lobbying the clan elders, giving them money — corruption is very, very high in the country — and basically buying their endorsement,” she says.

She has told the media before that she knows her chances of winning are close to zero. And now she has a condition for Somalia’s electoral team.

“Unless something drastic happens, I will not vie in a 4.5-clan-based system. When I announced my candidacy, I said if we are going to go back to a clan system, I would not run. And I’m sticking to what I said,” she says, insisting that the “selection” system is not backed by Somalia’s Constitution and should be doen away with.

As she rushes from the interview with Lifestyle to attend another meeting in Nairobi, Ms Dayib leaves no doubt that she will continue fighting to bring change to a country that has for decades been ravaged by war — no matter the outcome of the elections.

Editor's note

The print version of this article published in the Lifestyle section of the Sunday Nation on October 16, 2016 erroneously indicated that Ms Fadumo Dayib and her family were deported from Kenya in 1990. This, in fact, happened in 1989.

Ms Dayib has also pointed out to us that it is inaccurate to have said in the article that she spent her first 17 years in Kenya since she lived in Somalia for a significant number of years during this period before the deportation of her family and hundreds of others by President Daniel arap Moi's government.