Big Interview: Fadumo Dayib, Presidential candidate, Somalia

Monocle
Nairobi, Kenya

Fadumo Dayib, photographed for Monocle by Andrew Renneisen
Fadumo Dayib, photographed for Monocle by Andrew Renneisen

For a presidential candidate just weeks ahead of the vote, Fadumo Dayib is remarkably resigned to losing. Like many of her fellow aspirants Dayib is a dual passport-holding member of Somalia’s far-flung diaspora, an elite group whose privileges over those left behind frequently foster resentment. But, unlike any of her competitors, she is a woman and in a patriarchal society such as Somalia that makes her shoe-string run for the presidency both impossible and impossibly significant.

The 44-year-old has lived more than half her life in Finland where she has raised four children while making a career in public health and at the UN. But she has now made it her mission to change her homeland, to break the stranglehold that clan has held on Somalia for as long as anyone’s oral history can tell. Putting herself forward for the presidency is risky to life and reputation but she is determined, single-minded and sees her doomed candidacy as a first step and an opportunity to speak and be heard. She sits down with monocle in Nairobi.

Q&A

How did the experiences of migration shape you?
I was born into displacement. I have always been an alien so the fact I was in Finland didn’t make me feel any different. I knew I’d reached the land of opportunities. The first night in Helsinki it was very quiet, there was snow on the ground and I knew I would take the opportunity I’d never had to study. I knew what I wanted from my time in Finland, that I wouldn’t waste my time. I took that opportunity seriously but I also knew I would not stay in Finland for the rest of my life, that asylum wasn’t a permanent status for me. Whereas others were talking about settling in I always had my bag by the door with the understanding that I would go back to Somalia.

Why get involved in Somalia’s toxic, sometimes deadly politics?
When I announced my candidacy for the first time it was when the government said we would have democratic elections: one person, one vote. Now we have reverted back to the clan system [whereby the four major clans get a priority allocation of parliamentary seats and political appointments] and I find it repugnant. From a very young age I became aware of it through violence: the scars on my body come from that. I wasn’t assaulted or beaten by strangers: my own people did that because my father or mother came from a different clan. People take that clan hatred out on innocents. It is a dysfunctional system and the international community is complicit. How do you bring a modern electoral system and just impose it on an ancient, despicable system and say this democratic structure can sit on top of an undemocratic one and think it will yield results? It’s insane.

What do you have to offer Somalis?
I’m coming with a clean slate. I’ve not raped, I’ve not pillaged, I’ve not looted, I’ve not killed, I’m not an Islamist, I’m not a tribalist. I am a competent, qualified, patriotic person. I am not driven by power. My journey is about social change. The work I will do is not only about 2016. We need to challenge traditional, cultural and religious values, we need to shake the foundation to be able to build a much better one.

You admit that you have no chance of winning. Why compete?
It is about social change and one part of that is challenging the political elite in order to say there is an alternative. We don’t always have to put up with a warlord, an Islamist, a thug, a tribalist or a man. Someone like me – who comes from a disadvantaged background but has made something of her life – can, and should, challenge the leadership if it is not doing what it should. I have watched for 26 years from the sidelines, always hoping somebody would come and bring order. Somalia deserves better and Somalis deserve better and if we don’t challenge the status quo Somalia won’t exist much longer. I see my candidacy as a moral obligation.

Does your involvement legitimise an illegitimate process?
This is a selection, not an election and is no better than 2012. Corruption has expanded. I’m not a pessimist – that’s not my business – I am an optimist, but also a pragmatist and a realist. We need to hold the government accountable, we need people who are on top of them all the time, following every cent that is given to them, holding them to their word – and that’s going to be my job.

What is the role of the international community in the upcoming elections in Somalia?
The international community is playing around in Somalia. They are complicit in this apartheid clan system and the gender quota system. The international community should have insisted women select their own candidates, not the clan elders who believe your only role is in the kitchen. And then there is corruption. All the money the donors are pouring into Somalia is not accounted for. How long are you going to be dumping money in a country that doesn’t take its responsibilities seriously? Where there’s no accountability?