HELSINKI — Running to become president of a country always comes with challenges — but facing death threats from militants and fearing you may never see your four children again are not the usual hurdles.
Despite those enormous obstacles, Fadumo Dayib, 44, plans to leave the safety of Finland, where she arrived as a refugee 26 years ago, to run for president in Somalia. She will be one of dozens of candidates vying to rule the troubled Horn of Africa nation, whose government has been struggling against the al-Shabab extremist group, which is trying to impose a strict version of Islam.
When her children are mentioned, a worried frown crosses her face.
“I’ll have to tell them they may never see me alive again,” Dayib tells The Associated Press. “That is going to be a tough, tough thing to do as a mother.”
After her own mother fled adversity in Somalia, Dayib was born in neighboring Kenya and arrived in Finland as an 18-year-old refugee. Educated in health care and nursing in this Nordic country and in public administration at Harvard University, she has set her goals high for conservative Somalia— aiming to eradicate the stranglehold on power held by the country’s four major clans.
“My aim is to tackle this structure. My aim is to destroy it,” she says. “It has no place in the 21st century.”
Any Somali citizen above age 40 can run for president as long as his or her parents are both ethnic Somalis and the candidate has had higher education and work experience. Candidates do not represent regions and run on their own platforms.
Dressed in long flowing trousers and a blue-black headscarf, Dayib sips a latte in a Helsinki cafe. She could hardly be further away from the bloodshed in Somalia, where al-Shabab is waging a guerrilla war after being pushed out by African Union peacekeeping forces from major cities and towns, but the violence is never far from her thoughts.
During a recent visit to the Somali capital of Mogadishu, Dayib became only too aware of the dangers after a trip to the waterfront. People had been enjoying a quiet Thursday afternoon until al-Shabab fighters attacked the beach, killing several people — after she had posted beach pictures on social media.
“I felt that if I hadn’t put those photos on social media, perhaps that attack would not have happened,” she says, her voice trailing off. “But then someone said to me they would have done it anyway and you could have been one of those killed.”
She wanted to visit the beach to be “part of the daily reality of Somalis,” but also to let al-Shabab know she did not fear them, despite several death threats she has received since announcing her candidacy.
“I’m not scared of them,” she says. “I wanted to show them that I want to go to my country, to walk anywhere I want to walk and send a very strong message that your threats are not working.”
Dayib didn’t learn to read and write until age 14 — four years before she arrived in Finland with her younger brother and sister. Her mother joined them later through the family reunification plan and they settled in the central Finnish city of Kuopio.
There she attended university, graduating with a diploma in auxiliary nursing before continuing her nursing and public health degrees at universities in southern Finland and then to Harvard for a degree in public administration. In between she worked in Somalia, Liberia and Fiji with the United Nations, focusing on child health, adolescent care and other humanitarian issues involving refugees.
Dayib, who has dual nationalities, plans to remain in Somalia for three to four years even if she doesn’t get the top job. In addition to tackling the clans and the corruption, she wants to help bring peace and democracy to the country — to be “a catalyst” for social change.
She won’t speak about her personal life in Finland because she fears it might endanger her family and friends. She says she is leaving Finland because she feels a “vocational calling,” born the 12th child after 11 siblings before her died in Somalia, mostly from curable diseases.
“There’s a reason why I survived, and that reason is not solely to serve my own interests,” she says. “It’s to make sure that we have a country that is progressive and that people will lead a dignified existence.”
She concedes that winning is nearly impossible. Somalia has never had a female president and Dayib says its few female lawmakers are fighting to keep their seats in the largely male-controlled country.
Regions in the country of more than 10 million will choose 14,000 electors by Oct. 10, in a move sure to reflect the power of the clans. The electors, in turn, will vote for the 275 members of a new Parliament.
The lawmakers then will vote in the new president on Nov. 30 from a list of candidates that is not yet complete.
Dayib says corruption will be a major concern in this year’s election because “in Somalia, people buy votes,” but she is still hopeful about the future.
I’m very optimistic that we’ll have democratic elections in Somalia in 2020,” she says. “I have no doubts that I will be the president in Somalia and I’m willing to wait it out for the next 20 years if necessary.”