Fawzia Yusuf Haji Adan, the new foreign affairs minister of Somalia and the deputy prime minister, is not a newcomer to politics in Somalia.
On December 2011, an audience in Hargeisa, the main city of the self-declared republic of Somaliland, applauded the tall, well-educated politician as she walked past a group of men and onto a podium.
On this day, Hargeisa, a city of some half million souls, was celebrating the formation of three new political parties, all promising change in how the semi-autonomous region was governed.
Fawzia’s Nabad, Dimuqraadiyad iyo Barwaaqo (NDB) — Peace, Democracy and Prosperity party — was one of these three parties, and she entered the history of this self-declared republic as the first woman to lead a political party in one of the world’s most patriarchal countries.
Since declaring its independence in 1991, Somaliland’s politics has been dominated by three national political parties: The ruling Kulmiye Party, Ururka Dimuqraadiga Ummadda Bahawday (UDUB) — United Peoples’ Democratic Party — and Ururka Caddaalada iyo Daryeelka (UCID) — The Justice and Welfare Party.
But the current president, Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, has revised the law to allow the registration of new political parties. As a result, about 20 political parties now jostle for the attention of voters in Somaliland.
As she celebrated the formation of her NBD party in Hargeisa, Fawzia proudly announced to the audience that the very basis of her party was to protect the “secession of the Somaliland Republic”.
Barely a year later, she crossed over to Mogadishu, the capital of a country she wanted to secede from, and was sworn in on November 19 last year as Somalia’s first female deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister.
Mutating political alliances and shifts are not uncommon in the tumultuous waters of the politics of the former Somali Republic (Somaliland, South Central and Puntland); it has become something of a norm, where political interests hold supreme.
“These shifts are normal for self-interested politicians and it has been like that for the last 20 years,” says Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad of the University of Nairobi.
In October 2012, Somaliland appointed Saleban Isse Ahmed to the Cabinet, a move that might look bizarre given the fact that, till then, he was anti-secession. Ahmed was the leader of unionist militias that fought against Hargeisa’s forces in the Sool, Sanaag and Cayn (SSC) region of northern Somalia.
The hawkish man, a former businessman from Ohio, was a candidate in Puntland’s presidential elections in 2009 as well, but he lost to the current president Abdirahman Farole.
Puntland, a semi-autonomous administration in north-eastern Somalia, jostles with Somaliland for control of the border areas between the two regions.
When she initiated her party in December 2011, Fawzia seemed to have learnt that independent candidates hardly succeed in Somali politics.
She ran as an independent in the 2003 Somaliland election and lost. However, she has become, in the process, a taboo breaker as the first female from Somaliland to run for such a high-stakes political office.
When she first entered into politics, Fawzia was hopeful that women would prefer her over men, but that did not happen.
Ten years later, she has become a role-model and an inspiration to many young women, some of whom have joined active politics.
The trail-blazing, bespectacled woman, a widowed mother of three children — she was married to the late army General Abucar Mohamed Libanalso — is now back in Somalia to complete the unfinished mission.
Born into a prominent and highly educated family, Fawzia, Somalia’s most powerful woman, is the daughter of Yusuf Haji Adam, the first Somali Ambassador to an Arab state, based in Egypt soon after independence.
A freedom fighter, politician and artist, Haji Adam is also considered to be the ‘father of education’ in the country’s northern part, the current Somaliland.
He also founded the first political organisation, Somali National Society, in the then British Protectorate in the 1940s.
“[Fawzia] is following in her father’s foot-steps…. That is what inspired her to be such a strong and courageous woman,” says Ahmed Ali, a civil society activist in Hargeisa.
Close friend: Somali President Hassan Sheik Mahmud. FILE
Close friend: Somali President Hassan Sheik Mahmud. FILE
Fawzia is also the founder of Hargeisa University, the first university in Somaliland, in 2000, and Ahmed notes that she was a proud secessionist and even advocated for international recognition for the self-declared republic.
“She also hoped to lead Somaliland as the first female president of the unrecognised state,” he adds.
But Fawzia was stopped in her tracks on a technicality; in April 2012, Somaliland’s Political Parties Registration and Verification Committee (PPRVC) disqualified her NDB party, together with eight other parties. That officially ended her dream of ascending to the presidency one day.
“She felt like she was being targeted for being a woman,” says Ahmed.
A one-time deputy chief of protocol of Somalia’s foreign affairs ministry in 1970s, Fawzia has continually challenged the Somaliland administration through street protests and by using her ties with media, but had little to show for her activism.
However, when her long-time friend Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a civil society activist and an academician, unexpectedly won the presidential elections in September last year by beating the former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in parliamentary elections in Mogadishu, Fawzia was thrown a life-line.
In November 3, she was appointed Somalia’s first female deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs in Africa’s smallest Cabinet.
“My nomination as the Foreign minister is historic for Somalia and particularly for the women of Somalia, it turns a new page for the political situation of our country and will lead to success and prosperity,” she said after the nomination.
Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, author of Somali Conflict: A Somali Problem? — to be released this year — believes that recent history has proved Somali women are more responsible than Somali men, adding that “Fawzia’s appointment is recognition of their [women’s] efforts”.
“It is because of her vision and creative leadership that drove Fawzia to change course and work with Somalia at a time when there was so much need for born-leaders like her to lift the country from its dark history,” says a member of Fawzia’s family who wants to remain anonymous.
As a daughter of northerner (Somaliland) and a wife of southerner (Somalia), Fawzia, whom some people describe as “a breath of fresh air to politics” in this recovering Horn of Africa state, could become a symbol of unity that eventually brings Somalia and Somaliland together.
Nevertheless, controversy stalks her like an unwelcome guest, both in Somalia and Somaliland.
In Somaliland, she is perceived as a traitor to the secessionist cause, while in the south her integrity is questioned because of that same secessionist past.
“One thing that is clear is that she is a secessionist-minded person and she never abandoned that cause publicly as far as I know,” adds Abdiwahab.
However, relationships and friendships overcome integrity in Somali politics. It appears President Hassan has come through for his friend Fawzia at a time of great need.
It also appears that her appointment is an olive branch to the Isaaq clan in Somaliland.
However, Fawzia has a tough time ahead with regard to Somaliland. Last April, she supported Somaliland’s decision to withdraw from talks with Somalia because it was thought that then the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was against the interests of Somaliland.
Her former colleague and Somaliland’s current foreign minister, Dr Mohamed Abdilahi Omar, whom she described earlier as “a true son of Somaliland”, is now threatening to put her behind bars should she ever set foot in her house in Hargeisa.
Although Abdiwahab concedes that Fawzia is a veteran diplomat who served Somalia’s mission in the Soviet Union, the US and East Germany before the civil war, he says that there’s nothing that makes her unique for the position other than being a woman.
In her first interview with BBC Somali Service, Fawzia caused a diplomatic faux pas. She was quoted as saying “Somaliland is my country, Somalia is my country, both are my countries and I am for both”.
“It is unfortunate to hear a foreign minister referring to another part of her country as a sovereign country,” says Abdiwahab.
“Somalia is one country and there is nothing like Somalia and Somaliland.”
Many called for her outright dismissal after the BBC interview, but she still holds on.