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Thorns on The Path: Somali Women In Politics

By Yasmeen Maxamuud

Politics is a very hard rock to crack around the globe, its full of slander, innuendo, and the process may leave one regretful she has entered the fray to begin with. For women in Somalia the stakes are that much higher and they are finding it increasingly tough to crack the political system put in place by men for men. In this analysis, I will take Puntland as a case study since the region is in severe election mode and will have a new president installed by January 8, 2019.

Puntland’s political system is dominated by men, the parliament in place elected on December 31, 2018, is 65-1 (the token female parliamentarian hails from the Sool region, no female parliamentarians are elected from the other 8 regions in Puntland) male, the traditional elders are 100% male, and the presidential and the VP candidates are 100% male. This scenario gives itself to the thinking women are missing in big ways due to their lack of interest. To understand the reason there are almost no women present in these arenas is to understand the patriarchal system that is the engine running the country in government, commerce, traditional affairs and decision making process.

Women are not seen in all these important areas for one reason, it’s strategically, unapologetic deliberate and planned:
• Planned by the sitting president Gas,
• Planned by clan elders
• Male parliamentarians,
• Big business and other influential political brokers.

These political power houses outnumber women because money talks and women are walking the political defeat of powerlessness.

The influential systems put in place to birth the political systems that lead the way are all male and are void of any females influences, whether its women in the Federal government parliament or cabinet ministers both in the federal government and the local regional government. When women wait for their political fate to come from male cousins, the political maneuvering becomes increasingly difficult to run for office let alone win, although 30% is the quota each regional government is forced to allow women in.

Forced is the right word because unless the international community twists their hand, the Somali men at the helm in Puntland wouldn’t even think its necessary to allow women to run for office let alone win.

Some regions have come on top allowing more than 30% of women in their parliament. The South West regional sate is one example. The rest are under water with their quota.

When a woman is inspired to participate in the political arena, she must jump through hoops and hurdles. To begin with she needs the blessing of her clan elder, who has assumed a king maker persona. Campaigning or even having a simple meeting with the clan elder is close to impossible, it’s exhausting, shame filled, alien to both her and the uncle elder who yields so much power politically and culturally.

The elder uncle as a political broker:

This clan elder uncle has seen his stock go up over the years when the country broke itself into fiefdoms. Their traditional role has for centuries been to keep the peace between neighboring clans, to ensure blood money is paid and the soft issues that are mainly concerned with the keeping of clan peace, safety and prosperity.

Women didn’t enter into his arena unless he was to gift a girl to another clan elder or some other male to keep peace and harmony. This was his only dealing with females, as wives, daughters or gifts to other clans for peace.

The political novice clan elder suddenly finds himself the kingmaker of the law making body of the land, he was appointed to the position to elect and select politicians because he was seen as fair and just when he kept peace afloat in country that is forever in clan warfare. He suddenly found himself in this prestigious post having the only say on who becomes a parliamentarian member.

It was abrupt that the clan elder’s approval and signature became the only way one could become a law maker and member of parliament. This mostly traditional unlearned uncle was thrown into the midst of politics and was made the de facto figure to give his blessings to will be politicians. The home of the elder became the epicenter for political maneuvering. The average clan elder is in his seventies with limited formal education and even less religious studies which makes him depend on other men to make the biggest decisions in politics.

Politically hungry men looking for high political positions created in this simple man, a greedy individual suddenly swimming with political sharks willing to cut deals and buy influence using funding from across the country and the Gulf states. And so this uncomplicated elder became part of a corrupt political system above his head when his life became intertwined with political dealings with political strategists including some with foreign hard cash willing to cut this simple elder to see through their owner’s strategies. Any chances a woman would have through one person one vote is hampered by this highly confused elder uncle and even more corruptible politicians.

Somali Women Politicians: The Thorns under their feet:

Women in Somalia are seen as political underdogs, unnecessary and some clan elder uncles and politicians would like to shun these women they see as nonsense women and their political aspirations. But that is not happening, in fact as much as women have no political allies in their males whether the elder traditional uncle or the greed ridden politician, she is alone in her struggle and even doesn’t have family or friends willing to join her in her struggle. Viewed as weak and nuisance culturally, a female in this arena must maneuver this dog devour dog world of ugly, corrupted Somali politics.

Most Somali men young and old widely believe women belong inside their homes but that is not a joke, it’s in fact a desire for Somali men to keep their women to stay out of the game and to keep the house neat and clean, rear their children and make their beds. That is the extent of a Somali woman’s domain in the mind of a Somali male. Let this dangerous thinking sink in for a moment. This is how policy that impacts more than 55% of the population is formed by deaf toned males whose policies have been causing dire infant mortality rate, youth unemployment, youth migration, mediocre education systems, poor health care systems,, lack of clean water and unchecked corrupt ministries that ignore their mandate and pocket the funding meant to better society.

In this horrific scenario the clan elder and the politician have become strange bedfellows. The elder:

  • Points to who should be a parliamentarian,
  • Who should work with the president,
  • Who should be a Minister and
  • To the nitty gritty detail of who should be the Director General (s) and Head of Departments in Ministries. And it’s usually nephews and sons and the closest kin in his clan that fill the favor.

It’s a payback system of I scratch your back and you do the same, buying and selling influence that has no entry point for women who are left to pick up the pieces left behind by a broken systems that yields communities that are dangerously hampered by this poor nepotism and politics with no checks and balances.

The female Somali politician is reduced to unravel in front of her clan elder, who is void of any symbiotic relationship for a female, let alone one who merges into the political lane reserved for the boys. In his mind the Somali proverb a female should be in her father’s house, her husband’s house or in the grave rings true. That she appears in his presence with such a request to enter politics is equal to death, but he leads her on, takes wads of cash that is never returned and moves on with his plan to crown his son, his nephew, his son-in-law, or some other close clan relative to hold the most important positions in politics. This is not just corrupt, its inhumane in the tallest order and intentional cruelty.

Many of the women running for parliament in Puntland, in the 2019 currently installed parliament, had gone through this fierce competition by meeting with their clan elders and receiving promises and signatures that later became null and void. Each woman of estimated 13 parliamentarian candidates had spent an average of $40,000 (forty-Thousand Dollars). After paying the clan elder and they received the needed signature, the clan elder changed his mind, threw his full support after one of his male relatives, and pocketed the money. No refunds were issued. Now we have all these women who were left to figure out the confusion and cold system of fraud. They were promised political positions but are instead dealing with empty bank accounts. Three of the women parliamentarian candidates speak about the reason they entered politics. Their hopes and aspirations are as a result of wanting to effect change and be change makers in Puntland.

Muna: Puntland Parliamentarian candidate

I wanted to become a parliamentarian to bring about changes. I wanted to change capacity building in ministries, bring about change, improve social issues. There is so much funding heralding nothing tangible in Puntland. The reports to the International Community are flashy but the issues are not resolved. Data collection is great but these programs do not make the dent they need to change things on the ground. There is lack of commitment with policy makers and we want to be the example the country needs and make policy impact to those who need it. We also want to see an inclusive political system, our input is needed and necessary.

Khadijo: Puntland Parliamentarian candidate.

I got involved with politics at a young age as a doctor seeing all the issues a woman goes through in the hospital. I saw that getting involved with politics was full of thorns but I was deliberate in wanting to enter politics to effect change. I knew there are all kinds of thorns on the path of politics, but I was very deliberate to help women and children. My involvement is meant to make changes for women and children and youth. I will never give up until I see women representing women. I support women wholeheartedly. I prefer to put support on women, I know what my sister has is in my possession, better than what my own brother holds, he is a man and may not understand my needs the way another women I have no relations with will. I will keep going as long as I live.


Somalia lacks leadership in its elders, politicians and women politicians currently holding the 30% quota allowed for women both in the federal system and in regional states. As long as Somali politics is one of individualistic gains, filling the tummy of the family instead of that of the nation, women in Puntland and Somalia will forever be crying the tears of inequality and injustice. Somali leaders put the needs of family above the needs of the nation. Somali politics is as zero sum game where one man yields all the power.

A sitting president is allowed to bulldoze the country, and these around him are afraid to speak truth to power for reason of losing power and influence themselves. The whole nation has become one where save for few social media critics, the voice of the masses is muted. Peaceful protests are not allowed in Puntland and Somalia in general, and so whoever is on top becomes the strong man and his clan protects him and other clan males look for favors and stay quite. This needs to change. The days of parliament being in bed with the president and the vice president being shut off from having a say has to stop.

We are on the verge of getting a new president in Puntland, the new president and the new parliament are working for the people and they need to understand that. Corruption and personal agendas must be something that doesn’t drive your new government. Please do better, strive to be a good example in Somalia, be unique and innovative and make history by doing great policies that are free from side dealings and buying influence. Let your government be the one to emulate all over Africa, strive to be a leader that eats last, not a leader that eats first. Be an example and elect women to your cabinet in great numbers. Make having a Minister of Women as you’re only minister as something from the dark past. Have women ministers in most unexpected ministries, your government will be so much more inclusive and alert to the needs of your people. Be a socially conscious president and have an eye for justice and human rights.

To women holding positions of power, those sitting on the 30% quota allotted for all her sisters, you have a responsibility, you were not elected to just warm your parliamentarian seats, or your ministerial seats, you are obligated to reach out to women on the ground, those advocates and change makers are left to fend for themselves, truly, their struggle is real. This is a tragedy, where is your voice, it’s missing. Puntland women must come together on this issue and must never rest until their rights are restored, women need a wider vision that reaches all corners of Somalia, and each region needs to hold their female politicians to count. All women in Somalia must unite and must remember this issue is bigger than their region and clan.

Yasmeen Maxamuud
Email: [email protected]

Yasmeen Maxamuud is an entrepreneur and the author of Nomad Dairies.


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