HELSINKI — Fadumo Dayib, Somalia’s first female presidential candidate, is so dismayed by the decision this week by Somali’s electoral body to postpone the country’s presidential elections for the third time that she thinks she will not run for president again, even if a new date is set.
“I think I am not going to run … because the level of corruption, the shocking level of corruption, it is all very, very disheartening, and I don’t want to legitimize something that is that bad by running in it,” Dayib said via Skype from Nairobi.
The elections in Somalia have been billed by Western countries as the first democratic polls in decades, and as an important stepping stone to fairer elections in 2020. However, the process is more of a clan-based selection process than an election process: The president is selected by a national assembly of more than 14,000 delegates chosen by tribal elders, as it was determined that Somalia was not ready for a one-person, one-vote election system. The official reason for the postponement was that the election process for the delegates had not occurred in all parts of the country. The United States and the European Union are major donors to Somalia.
Dayib said she would run again “in a democratic, one person-one vote system,” but not in a clan-based, “apartheid” system “that segregates clans based on their ethnicity and their race.”
“For the past 26 years, the international community has said this was a stepping stone to democracy, but how long will we keep this monster on life support?”
Dayib, who is the only woman out of 18 presidential candidates in Somalia, fled with her family to Finland after the collapse of the Siad Barre regime 25 years ago, as a teenager. She learned to read and write at age 14. Dayib eventually got a master’s degree from Harvard and has earned multiple degrees in public health. She worked as a health-care specialist for the United Nations and for UNICEF and is pursuing a PhD.
The 44-year-old was stunned by the blatant corruption in Somali politics. “Of course I knew the selections were very corrupt,” she said. “Seeing people paying 1.3 million U.S. dollars for a senatorial seat, [and] many other corrupt instances, in a country where 73 percent of the population is living on less than 2 dollars a day shook me to my core. It’s just so — unjust.”
Dayib also blamed the vote delay on incumbent Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. “He is busy using state resources to finance his campaign, he is busy rigging the system to favor his return, and this is also what is very shocking because his term ended on the 10th of September,” Dayib said. “He should have been out of that office by then, but he is staying on unconstitutionally. The fact that we have this postponement is not because the regions were not able to select all the MPs, it is also because [Mohamud] and the chair of the federal electoral commission, who is [Mohamud’s] close friend and who he had hand-picked to lead this process, is busy helping him also rig the system.”
Dayib had harsh words for the international community’s role in Somalia’s problematic election efforts so far. “I believe the international community is complicit,” she said. “They are trying to legitimize an illegitimate process that is unconstitutional. The double standards of the international community is shocking because on one hand they call for free and fair elections, they want Somalia to be democratized, they want gender equality; yet at the same time, they are busy funding an ancient system that is highly misogynistic, that is patriarchal, that has no business even existing in the 21st century.
“Americans’ tax money is being used irresponsibly inside Somalia. This is why I say, if this is the kind of donor aid the West is going to give to Somalia, we would rather not have it. Perhaps then, this thing will die away because there are no entities that will fund it.”
Dayib, who receives death threats almost every day, said she does fear for her safety. “I don’t have security, and of course I am worried about what will happen to me and how it will happen to me,” she said. “Because frankly, it’s not going to be someone just shooting me in the head — I wish it were that easy. It will probably be horrible things happening to me, just to send a very strong message to Somali women to tell them to continue to stay in their homes. I worry about this, but I am not scared, and it will not stop me from doing what I’m doing.”
Dayib says she is not giving up on Somalia: “I have moved to Somalia, and I am setting up a base here in Kenya. There is no going back to Finland in the next few years. I am going to be involved in Somali politics one way or the other. I’m going to work on corruption, to continue being vocal, and to continue to challenge inequities in our societies. I am in the process of bringing my two younger children here so I can have peace of mind. I will work on ensuring we can have democratic elections in 2020. I am in it for the long run.”