Somalia parliament member Fawzia Yusuf H. Adam has already broken barriers. She was the first female foreign minister and deputy prime minister in her culturally conservative, majority-Islamic country. Now she’s aiming higher. In a nation where women are often overlooked, Adam is running for the country’s top office.
Adam is aware of the challenges before her as the Horn of Africa nation moves toward a long-delayed presidential election. The election was supposed to take place in mid-October. But political tensions have moved it toward the end of the year.
After three decades of conflict, educated women are returning to Somalia from abroad. Many want to help rebuild the country. But even sympathetic citizens believe Adam’s run for office is unlikely to succeed. They see her chances as nearly impossible because of her gender.
Adam admits she struggled with leading a foreign ministry staff that was mostly male. “They were very reluctant to collaborate with me just because I am a female,” she laments.
Abdiwahid Mohamed Adam is a doctor at Mogadishu Memorial Hospital. He admits, “She’s good, but unfortunately she’s a woman.” Plus, he points out, Adam comes from the Somaliland, a fairly stable area in the north. Somaliland has sought international recognition as an independent country for years. Many Somalis from other parts of the country resent people from Somaliland.
But the soft-spoken Adam, a widow and mother of three, believes her run for the presidency is worthwhile. “I want to break this barrier against women, so that in the near future many others will have the courage to run and even win,” she says.
Somalia has known years of devastating attacks by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab terrorist group. That experience is also driving Adam to run. “There was mayhem in this country for the past 30 years,” she says. “Young people are dying like flies, killing each other, exploding themselves, killing other people.”
Corruption and political squabbling haven’t helped.
Like others across Somalia, Adam has watched as her country’s foundation weakened. High unemployment, poor education, and one of the world’s least-equipped health systems are the results.
“I thought a woman may be what this country needs, the leadership of a woman, to bring peace and stability,” Adam says.
Her presidential campaign has been relatively low-profile because of fighting and the pandemic. Instead of holding large public rallies, Adam prefers smaller indoor gatherings.
Unlike many other candidates and everyday people in Somalia, Adam says she takes the pandemic seriously. She speaks bluntly about its dangers after seeing several friends die.
“We don’t have a good health system to deal with this phenomenon,” she says.
Women in Somalia have been especially hard hit by the virus, Adam says, both physically and economically. Should she win the election, she says the pandemic “will be one of my priorities, because we don’t want to lose more people.”
Married to a Somali general, Adam first entered politics in her hometown of Hargeisa in Somaliland years ago. She fled to Mogadishu, the capital, saying local politicians saw her as a threat. She later started a political party, the National Democratic Party, and rose to some of the country’s highest offices.
Now, in pursuit of the presidency, Adam has Somaliland in mind as part of her ambitions.
“If I am elected, I am sure I could reunite my country as I belong to both sides, the north and south,” she says. “I believe that I am the only person who’s capable of doing that.”
If her candidacy fails, she already has a Plan B: becoming prime minister. She says, “I would always advise whoever wins the presidency.”
Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy. — Proverbs 12:20
(Somali Parliament member Fawzia Yusuf H. Adam, center, chats with campaign supporters at Lido beach in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Monday, July 19, 2021. AP/Farah Abdi Warsameh)