opinion | hks policycast

The first woman ever to run for president in Somalia

Fadumo Dayib.
Fadumo Dayib.Martha Stewart

The Boston Globe presents the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast, a weekly podcast on public policy, politics, and global issues. HKS PolicyCast is hosted by Matt Cadwallader.

Fadumo Dayib is well aware of the risks involved.

When she arrives in the Somali capital of Mogadishu this week, Dayib will be charting new territory as the first woman ever to run for president of her home country.

“If you have to effect change and that change means you have to lose your life, then so be it,” said Dayib in an interview on the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast last year, “There comes a time when you will have to stand for what you believe.”


You can listen to the full interview with Dayib above, or download it on iTunes.

Dayib’s idealism comes not from naivete, but from a lifetime of overcoming considerable trials.

Born in Kenya to Somali parents, Dayib has spent most of her life as a refugee. Dayib recalled her mother selling everything she owned to ensure that she and her two siblings would make one of the last flights out of Mogadishu when violence erupted in 1990.

“I remember leaving my mother behind and not being able to say goodbye to her because I wasn’t sure whether we were going to go.”

She was eventually offered asylum in Finland, where she found what she describes as her “emancipation” in the form of a good education. She stayed there, becoming a nurse and raising a family.

In 2004, Dayib was watching television with her newborn child when she saw a story about a Somali woman walking three miles to a healthcare provider with a baby on her back, only to find the child already dead upon her arrival.

“I remember thinking to myself, why is that?” said Dayib. “Is it fair that she should go through what she’s going through while I am enjoying myself? I have everything I need, yet I am able to help because I’m a healthcare practitioner.”


Soon after, she found herself back in Somalia, helping to build health care clinics for the United Nations, but even then she felt there was more she could do.

“I sincerely believe that the majority of Somalis are patriotic — they love their country — and if given the chance, they are going to turn it around.”

Somalia doesn’t exactly stand out as a bastion of democracy. Its political system ties back to a handful of powerful clans that are deeply rooted in individual and family identities, and have been the cause of much of the nation’s conflict over the last 30 years.

“Even using the term government is questionable in Somalia,” said Dayib. “This is not a government, this is a bunch of people who were given positions based on clans.”

The concept of one-person, one-vote has never held sway. That is, until this year.

2016 will mark the first time Somalia holds elections that bear any similarity to our own, and Dayib is anxious to take advantage of the opportunity.

“Almost 25 years I’ve looked from the sidelines complaining,” she said, “Always assigning the blame elsewhere, when the blame lies with us. We are responsible for what is happening in Somalia . . . and so I’m taking that responsibility very seriously.”

And a serious responsibility it is. In a nation where women are often seen as subordinate to men and militant fundamentalist groups like Al-Shabaab have significant power, the very concept of a woman running for president has been met with hostility. In running for president, Dayib accepts the risk to her personal safety in service of a greater goal.


“The time has come for us to stop negotiating for our existence . . . I believe that 10 million Somalis deserve better than they’re getting.”

• 1:06 — The journey from refugee to presidential candidate.

• 7:01 — Why return to Somalia?

• 9:47 — Is it unfair to view Somalia through the lens of pirates and Al-Shabaab?

• 15:56 — How does the political system work in Somalia? What are the clans?

• 19:25 — How do you circumvent the clan system?

• 21:20 — Why run for president in the face of tremendous risk to personal safety?