Somali-born Fartuun Adan and her daughter Ilwad Elman with Ugandan Dickens Kamugisha are among the 2022 Right Livelihood Award winners. They have been honored for their fight for human rights despite facing dangers.
By Tobore Ovuorie
The Swedish-based NGO Right Livelihood on Thursday named Adan, Elman and Kamugisha winners of the 2022 Right Livelihood Award for their courage in promoting human rights and peace.
Adan and Elman are specifically awarded for promoting peace, demilitarization and human rights in Somalia in the face of terrorism and gender-based violence.
Kamugisha, on the other hand, has been honored for his courageous work for climate justice and community rights violated by extractivist energy projects in Uganda.
“The 2022 Right Livelihood laureates are grassroots actors dedicated to strengthening their communities,” Ole von Uexkull, executive director at Right Livelihood, said.
Von Uexkull added that their successes demonstrate how people can build societies on the principles of justice rather than exploitation.
Founded in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award (also known as the Alternative Nobel) honors and supports courageous people solving global problems. The award comes with long-term support to highlight and expand laureates’ work.
To date, 190 laureates from 74 countries have received the award.
Elman’s dedication to peace
Ilwad Elman, 33, was only 7 when her father, Elman Ali Ahmed, a prominent Somali peace activist, was assassinated in 1996 in their home country.
When she was 2 years old, the civil war broke out in Somalia, forcing her family to seek refuge in neighboring countries before resettling in Canada.
Ahmed’s killing was linked to Elman Peace — a nonprofit organization Elman’s mother, Adan, founded together with Ahmed in 1990.
At that time, the organization focused on an initiative called “Drop the Gun, Pick Up the Pen,” which supported the disarmament, rehabilitation, and reintegration of thousands of young people from clan-based militias in Somalia.
Since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia and its people have not known peace, and, currently, the government is battling the al-Shabab extremist group.
Helpless toys of war
Armed groups and intelligence services mostly use children as soldiers because more than 60% of Somalia’s population is younger than 25.
A 2022 report by the UN states that “grave violations against children committed by all parties to the conflict continue unabated.”
The report also reveals that children are subject to violations “at staggering levels.”
Though safely in Canada, Adan and Elman were restless about the turmoil at home.
“All throughout my upbringing, I knew that there was more,” Elman said.
“I knew that I had a calling and a purpose,” Elman said
Their restlessness grew into discontent, and, finally, Adan returned to Somalia in 2006 to continue Elman Peace’s work and her husband’s legacy.
Four years later, Elman joined her mother in Somalia. “At the age of 19, I felt compelled to return to Somalia to see what role I could play in the peaceful transition out of conflict,” she said.
Desperate for change
But when she returned to the country in 2010, Elman was inspired by the young Somalis desperate for change.
“When I came back to Somalia, I was met with essentially a nation of children that have also been entangled in conflicts for their entire lives,” she said
She saw an opportunity to influence young, malleable minds that desperately were searching for peace.
“There was a lot of opportunity in breaking the cycle.”
Elman chose to stay in Somalia, despite the dangerous context in which she and her mother work.
Compelled to act
“I felt compelled and I felt a call to action and I will say that is the moment that I decided to stay and to continue to fight for peace,” Elman said.
“So, I stayed in Somalia because I saw that there is an opportunity for youths to lead.”
Together, the duo has pioneered peace and justice projects across Somalia for which Ahmed was murdered.
The two have also championed climate and security, human rights and protection, gender and equality issues, education, livelihood, and job creation-related projects in Somalia.
Fighting gender-based violence
According to the United Nations, in 2021, Somalia witnessed an “alarming” 80% increase in sexual violence compared to 2019, often resulting in the death of victims.
Domestic legislation to counter such practices is frequently stalled in Somalia’s fragmented political system.
Right Livelihood states that Somalia is witnessing an “endemic killing of babies, unsafe abortions and overwhelming number of babies dumped in the streets of Mogadishu soon after birth.”
Elman and Adan have provided a safe home for abandoned children to counter these acts of gender-based violence.
Upon their return, Adan and Elman co-founded Sister Somalia, the first rape crisis center in the country to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
Such centers now exist in eight regions of Somalia. They provide psychosocial counseling, trauma healing, and emergency medical care.
Their services include legal aid, safe-house and transitional homes for survivors, and making provisions for their education and livelihood.
Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration
Ole von Uexkull, executive director at Right Livelihood said Adan and Elman had set out to build peace in Somalia by reintegrating former combatants.
“Their intergenerational and holistic work provides a safe haven to many in the midst of instability,” von Uexkull said.
One of the most significant achievements of Adan and Elman has been their approach to the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former combatants, including child soldiers.
Their model, focusing on localization, shifts the traditional approach to peace-building processes by creating a space for critical thinking and engagement. Their style differs from the typical international and interventionist model.
Focusing on mental health
The Somalia-based nonprofit’s rehabilitation work with former combatants emphasizes mental health.
Recognizing that traditional psychosocial support was ineffective because of cultural norms, Elman Peace began exploring how to utilize Somalia’s coastal environment through ocean and surf therapy to address psychological trauma.
The Ocean Therapy projects create an entry point for discourse among former combatants and reflect the need to address mental health and trauma caused by prolonged conflict.
Uganda’s Kamugisha: Standing up for the voiceless
Ugandan activist Dickens Kamugisha has resisted government and corporate threats as his organization, Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), ensures that communities affected by colonialist extractive energy projects can raise their voices on national and international levels.
According to government estimates, Uganda has between 1.8 and 2.2 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the country’s northwestern Albertine region.
The main projects include the Tilenga and Kingfisher pipelines, which would provide the oil for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), and the Uganda Oil Refinery, which plans to extract 60,000 barrels per day.
The German NGO Urgewald says the Tilenga Pipeline would displace more than 31,000 people, and EACOP would displace more than 86,000 in Uganda and Tanzania.
Fighting for women’s rights
In 2012, the oil extraction activities in Uganda expanded, and the government and oil companies tried to displace more than 7,000 people, among them 3,500 women.
Kamugisha said women in these communities were not allowed to own lands, so their husbands were trying to get the compensation and use it the way they wanted without their wives’ involvement.
AFIEGO stopped the unjust act.
“We worked with other partners to ensure the women also signed for the compensation with their husbands so that they are able to see how the money was used,” Kamugisha said.
“Through our activities, some of our women were also recognized and they were able to protect their compensation,” he continued. “With that compensation, some of their children were able to go back to school.”
AFIEGO models a democratic and renewable energy path for African countries using bottom-up work at the intersection of societal, economic and environmental concerns.
Threats and harassment
As a result of their activities to prevent environmental damage and protect the rights of communities, AFIEGO has faced threats and harassment from the authorities.
As a result, their office has been raided on several occasions and their staff arrested and detained.
In a widely condemned move in August 2021, the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organizations indefinitely suspended 54 civil society organizations in Uganda, including AFIEGO, supposedly on the grounds of violating regulations.
The organization has continued to operate since this announcement, albeit under increasing pressure.
Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu