By Hassan M. Abukar
Special report for WardheerNews
Several months ago, at the US. Institute of Peace in Washington, a young Somali attorney spoke about the humanitarian crisis in her native country, Somalia. Confident and poised, she described the plight of thousands of Somalis gripped by poverty, famine and displacement. The audience, comprising mostly representatives of American government agencies and international aid groups, listened attentively to the articulate and forthright speaker. Her name: Osob M. Samantar.
Osob, 31, laughed as she told me she had always been opinionated, even as a child. While she was in 8th grade, her school held a career day, during which various professionals descended upon the campus. One of the visitors — a lobbyist who spoke during the last session — left a lasting impression on Osob. The lobbyist asked students to debate whether the driving age should be increased from 16 to 18. It was a lively and memorable discussion, and Osob was impressed. She followed the lobbyist to the parking lot and asked her, “Excuse me, how can I become a lobbyist?” The lobbyist turned to her and simply said, “Go to law school, kid,” and then drove away in a gold Jaguar. To say that Osob has been hooked ever since is an understatement.
As Osob grew older, the benefits of a legal education became increasingly apparent to her. “It is vital in terms of critical thinking, communication, and writing skills,” said Osob, now a contract attorney in Washington DC. She is also working to build the Somali Forward Group—an entity that does consultancy work in Somalia in financial, legal, and policy fields. “Our main focus is institutional capacity building and human capacity injection,” Osob said.
She believes the Somali diaspora, which has had the privilege of extensively learning about the rule of law, diversity, and technical expertise, can share and give back to the Homeland. In fact, Osob advises the Somali diaspora who want to return home, to be genuine people who will put Somalia’s interests above their own personal agendas.
When she is not working, Osob volunteers at the Somali Embassy in Washington and helps with various events throughout the year. “We are all proud of her and her dedication,” said Ahmed I. Awad, Somalia’s Ambassador to the United States. “She was instrumental in the opening of the embassy in 2015.”
Most recently, Osob teamed up with equally talented women under a group called “Famine Resistors,” which is raising funds and awareness, and is looking for “creative ways to prevent and gather solutions to put an end to the vicious cycles of recurring famine.”
Osob comes from a family steeped in Somali history. Her late father, Mohamed Ali Samantar, occupied important positions during his lifetime, and served as vice president, defense minister, and prime minister. He was also considered the architect of Somalia’s national army in the 1970s—once one of the strongest in Africa. But to Osob, like any little girl growing up, her father was the perfect role model
Today, Osob’s other role model is her older sister, Zahra, who has also held important government positions in Somalia, including as the Minister of Women and Human Rights. “Zahra is the champion for women, human rights, and minorities,” Osob said. She saw Zahra in action in Mogadishu several years ago. “People meet her and she welcomes them with a smile and kind words,” said Osob, glowing. “That’s the type of person I want to be.”
Osob draws inspiration not just from her talented family members — she is also a big fan of Oprah Winfrey. “Oprah built an empire from scratch,” Osob said, smiling. “She is associated with greatness, success, and grander.” As an avid reader and listener of podcasts, Osob recommends one podcast: “Making Oprah,” to appreciate and understand Oprah’s humble beginnings.
Osob is optimistic about Somalia, in spite of the huge challenges the country faces. She dismisses the naysayers who think Somalia may never experience better times again. “Hope,” she said, “is still alive.” However, there are important tasks that need to be done.
“We need reform in all sectors in order to align with the federalist system,” she continued. As an attorney, she believes fixing the country’s weak judicial system is paramount. Moreover, equally important areas that need to be developed include “providing real security in Mogadishu, a reform in the agriculture and fishing industries, a reasonable and fair tax code, improvements in public school and health system, and most of all, injecting experienced personnel.”
In spite of the fact that Somalia’s challenges are massive, Osob is not one to be easily discouraged. She is optimistic and sees a bright future for the country. “Look at America 100 years ago,” she said, “a country that had civil war, slavery, Jim Crow and institutional racism, child labor, and an unequal criminal justice system.” She believes that no country is perfect, but that there has to be a commitment to “reconcile our differences and never shy away from incorporating marginalized groups into the decision-making process.”
Osob said that she recently read a quote by Harriet Tubman: “If you are tired, keep going. If you are scared, keep going. If you are hungry, keep going. If you want to taste freedom, keep going.”
Osob Samantar is the perfect embodiment of this quote as she moves forward, tirelessly advancing the cause and addressing the critical needs of Somalia’s displaced people.
Hassan M. Abukar
Hassan M. Abukar is a political analyst, a contributor to Wardheernews, and the author of Mogadishu Memoir. He can be reached at [email protected].
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