The smiling president and his two ladies visit London...
The Smiling President sitting comfortably between his wife (right) and his foreign minister, Fawzia Yusuf Haji Aden (left) at the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster
On 2nd February 2013 I was among thousands of privileged Somalis who attended a welcome event held in London for President Hassan and his delegation. I attended some previous welcome events for former Somali presidents, including President Sheikh Shariif. However, I must say this event was very much different from the previous ones in terms of the location, popularity, and the good atmosphere that surrounded the conference.
In the past, welcome events for Somali presidents, such as the late President Abdullahi Yusuf’s visit to London, were much localised and exclusive, dominated by particular groups with narrow minded agendas and interests. Believe or not some of them were held at hotels or at some obscure small community centres often attended by presidents’ lineages and their sympathisers. Organisers of these events were very much concerned about presidents’ safety and security, as opposition groups were everywhere, lurking from every corner, waiting for any opportunity to ambush the visiting president and his entourage. In particular, I remember Abdullahi Yusuf’s visit in London at the height of the controversy over the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, and how very angry Somalis surrounded his hotel, calling him names, and carrying placards with obscene and abusive messages. Obviously, this reflected the ugly face of the cut-throat politics at the time when Somalis were deeply divided among themselves over the invasion, and the late president was accused of being behind the invasion.
Former president Sheikh Sharif’s visit in London was less controversial and to some extent popular than Abdullahi Yusuf’s. This is again because of the prevailing political atmosphere of the time in which Somalis saw the president as a reconciling figure. The president was heading a government, which, unlike the previous TFG, had rejected violence to achieve political ends, and had accepted the principle of reconciliation and political negotiation. And the visit was after Ethiopians had been ejected from the country and the Somali people were feeling relieved and proud of their victory against their enemy. Wearing the Islamic turban, a symbol of piety and honesty in Somali culture that divides men into “waranle” (warrior) and “wadaad” (saint) and accompanied by Sharif Hassan, former speaker of the parliament who also wore a turban the two Sharifs were popular among those who attended the welcome events. They were seen as saviours.
Now let me return to President Hassan’s recent visit in London. Unlike the previous ones, the welcome event was held not only at the heart of London, but very close to the seat of the UK government. The House of Commons, the Big Ben, the 10 Downing Street and other government department buildings were all at a walking distance from the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster where the conference was held. By holding the event at this location it was probably meant to make it more inclusive and a public event in which any Somali who had the guts to endure a two-hour long queue in a freezing cold weather was welcomed to see their smiling president.
Organisers of the event were not disappointed, as up to 3,000 people congregated at the hall to see their president making an important political speech, highlighting his vision and the way forward for his country. The event was probably the biggest Somali political gathering held in London to honour a visiting Somali president. Looking back, neither Siyad Barre nor Abdullahi Yusuf nor Sheikh Sharif had ever enjoyed such a warm welcoming atmosphere, although there were some demonstrations against the President. And this is not unusual thing to happen for a society that is emerging from a long civil war. However, the warm welcome and the good will shown by thousands of Somalis again reveals the current prevailing mood of reconciliation among Somalis who are now proud of their full-fledging government that has been recognised by the international community. It also showed that after 20 years of civil wars, Somalis are now ready to forgive each other and forgot whatever happened in the past.
For me the most important thing in the conference was when I saw the smiling President sitting comfortably between two women: his wife, and his foreign minister, Fawzia Yusuf Haji Aden. This was clear recognition of the emerging women’s political power given how men had been oppressing Somali women in political, cultural and social affairs. The message was clear: women are not in the shadow any more and are here to say to play a dominant role in Somalia’s cut throat politics. This is important in an era when the so-called “Islamists” are doing every thing in their power to humiliate and undermine the role of women in the Somali society.
As they say “behind every great man there's a great woman”, and may be this time our president will be much wiser, peace-loving, tolerant, and patient thanks to the comfort, wisdom, and the listening ears that he will be getting from these two honourable ladies.
Kudos to Somali women…
It also important to mention here that the politics of excluding minority groups and the 4.5 formula have no place in Somalia, and seeing Professor Dalxa sitting at the same table as the president’s is a loud and clear message that one of the well-educated and professional groups are here to stay to play prominent roles in our country’s socio-economic and political affairs.