Meet the presidential candidate who confounds stereotypes and wants to confront injustice.
Fadumo Dayib was only 14 when she learned to read and write, but the human rights activist is now vying to become Somalia’s first female president in the country’s first democratically-held elections since 1967.
While the security situation in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu has continued to improve since 2013, large swathes of the country are under the terror of Islamist insurgency led by the Al-Qaeda affiliated militant group Al-Shabab, which has persecuted Somalis because of actual or perceived religious or political opinions.
Dayib, despite the myriad obstacles declared her ambitions in September 2014 to run for the presidency of Somalia. IBTimes UK meets the woman hoping to rebuild post-conflict Somalia through strong political leadership and social change.
“My background gives you a sense of where I am coming from and this is not politics for me, this is really a social change and the desire to face challenge and tackle the inequalities that we have in Somalia,” Dayib explains. She adds: “My story is like that of 12 million other Somalis.”
Although her father spoke several languages fluently and her mother had a head for numbers and was a businesswoman, Dayib’s parents were illiterate. They divorced when she was very young.
“My mother, who was a young bride, had lost 11 children to treatable illnesses – diarrhoea, respiratory infections, pneumonia. When she lost those 11 children, she was advised to move to greener pastures – there is a belief in Somalia that if one faces hardship in one place, one should relocate.”
Taking her younger brother with her, Dayib’s mother made her way to neighbouring Kenya in the hope of starting afresh. On her journey, she met Dayib’s father who gave her a lift in the Somalian port city of Kismayo. By the time they arrived in Nairobi, she had become his wife.
An uprooted refugee’s journey from Kenya to Finland
A very sickly child, Dayib was born in displacement in a catholic-run hospital in Thika – previously the site of the Thika refugee camp – as none of her parents were legal citizens in Kenya.
The baby managed to survive and her mother gave her the middle name Deeqo, which means “sufficient”. “She said: “if the child stays alive, then she’s sufficient, she’s enough and I don’t need other children,” Dayib explains. Two more siblings were born in Kenya – a boy and a girl.
In 1989, Kenya began the “forceful” deportation of some 2,000 ethnic Somalis and Somali nationals living in Kenya – and Dayib’s family was sent back to Somalia. “Although I was born in Kenya and never got the citizenship, as a child I always thought I was Kenyan, that Kenya was my country. As a teenager, the shock of being given a white paper which said ‘go home’ is something I will never forget,” the 43-year-old recalls.
“I am not bitter – the best gift Kenya could ever give me was to tell me where home is and direct me there. They gave me that gift of finding home and having more qualms. I am not disillusioned – I never thought I’d be a Finn and I am not, even here. I know that home is Somalia.”
‘Selling everything to get her three children to safety’
When the family was forcefully deported from Kenya, everyone held refugee statuses in Somalia, and when the war broke out in the early 1990s, Dayib’s mother had to sell everything she had in order to get her three children to safety.
“She stayed behind because the money wasn’t enough and because her mother wasn’t feeling well and she had to stay and take care of her,” Dayid says. “We were not a well-off family so all we could muster was a visa and tickets to Bucharest, Romania.” Now responsible for her two younger siblings, Dayib boarded one of the last flights from Mogadishu.
When Dayib and her younger siblings were in transit in Moscow, they met a Russian man who had been working in Somalia and spoke fluent Somali. The man took a liking to Dayib’s brother – “who at the time had a very strange looking hairstyle” – and told the group he could help them get day visas to Finland.
“I agreed for my brother to accompany him to get them and was scared of what would happen to him. But after giving the visas to us, the man walked us to the exit and told me to leave our suitcase behind. I didn’t want to, it contained photos of my parents, small treasures of home and of our own history. When I grabbed my bag he said, ‘Don’t do it because the immigration will ask you: ‘If you only have a day visa, why do you need to take that bag because you will come back to go to Bucharest’. It felt like I was walking away from my life – that’s all I had, it symbolised everything.”
Two days after that, they were on a flight to Finland “with a drunk Finnish guy sitting at the rear of the plane singing loud songs all the way while the rest of the Somalis with us sat in that flight wondering whether all Finns were like this”, Dayib recalls.
A ‘pioneer’ in Somalia’s community in Finland
There is a distinction between arriving in Finland as a refugee or as an asylum seeker – a refugee will receive support when he or she is brought from the camps and arrives in Finland. “Unfortunately, we were asylum seekers because we appeared out of nowhere and were asking for asylum,” Dayib, who arrived in the Scandinavian country with less than five years of formal education, points out.
Dayib’s mother eventually arrived in Finland through the family reunification scheme two years after her children and learned to read and write before she passed away.
Three decades later, the mother-of-four describes how thankful she is to her country of adoption, which “gave me things that my own country could not give me – and that I could not even dream about because of my background”.
Dayib sees herself as a “pioneer” in the Somali community in Finland. She is the first Somali female refugee to study for two master’s degrees in Finland – as well as a third one from Harvard – beforegaining employment a critical nurse in a university hospital and going on to work for the United Nations including several years in Somalia.
More recently, she also became the first to gain admission to a doctoral programme in Finland, for which she is currently doing her PhD on the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (Peace, Women and Security) on top of her work in the private sector where she designs employment schemes for refugees and migrants.
#Dayib4President: Somalia’s first female president?
In 2014, Dayib became the first woman to run for president of Somalia, and hopes to make human rights central to her campaign in the conflict-ridden nation.
“I believe my life is a vocational calling, there must be a reason why I survived when 11 others didn’t,” she reasons, outlining how she intends to tackle issues of democracy, reproductive health, women’s and girls’ rights and empowerment.
“My only goal is not to be the Somali president – but my ultimate goal is for us to have social change inside the country. I want to tackle harmful tradition practices (such as genital mutilation), to tackle a perception of cultural vice – the gender rights. I also want to challenge this interpretation of the Kuran, the religion and say: ‘No, this is not correct’.”
“Somalis have not had the ability or opportunity to vote for whoever they wanted in office for the past 48 years. So when I declared my candidacy, I declared it with the understanding that we were going to have democratic elections,” Dayib explains.
While Somalia’s current government’s mandate expires this month, the country’s plans for holding internationally-backed elections before the end of the year has come under pressure.
According to Dayib, the clan-based power-sharing system in place in Somalia since 2000 discriminates against traditionally marginalisedclans by “unfairly” distributing national parliamentarian seats between “majority” clans – the Hawiye, Darod, Dir, and Rahaweyn – and the other “minority” clans.
“I wanted to tackle this oppressive ‘4.5 clan formula’ which is similar to the white supremacy ideology. Then, less than a year ago, they reverted back to this unjust system – and it is the root cause of conflict inside the country. How can you want to stabilise the country by using something that is so divisive, that has everyone fighting against each other? Once we go beyond this sick system, then everything will be fine.”
While the nation faces sizeable challenges that include threats posed by the Islamist insurgency Al-Shabab, breakaway territories (Jubaland, Galmudug, Puntland and South West State) as well as administrative hurdles, Dayib faces an even bigger challenge. While the election committee has determined that 30% of seats should be reserved for women in each Somalian state, the East African nation remains among the top-five most dangerous countries in which to be a woman.