Somalia: Female deputy PM Fauzia Adan rallies Toronto Somalis to help their homeland

She is Somalia’s most powerful woman: a thorn in the eyes of Mogadishu-based terrorist group Al Shabab, and a ray of hope for her country in the Horn of Africa.

Fauzia Yusuf Haji Adan, Somalia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, isn’t one to be easily intimidated by threats or challenges, whether they be rebuilding her country’s infrastructure, creating employment, or — above all — countering terrorism.

“We are fighting many fires, the biggest being security,” Adan told the Star in an interview Thursday during her two-day visit to Toronto.

“Mogadishu is much safer than many cities in the world, and much safer than before. Al Shabab is diminishing. They are losing morale. They are losing ground. They are losing numbers.”

PhotosView gallery

  • Fauzia Yusuf Haji Adan, the most powerful woman in Somalia, talks to the Star about extremism among young Somali men and the future of her war-torn country at a Westin hotel in north Toronto. Adan was hailed by Somalis at the Toronto gathering as an inspiration to Somali youth in Canada, a few of whom have been drawn into the terrorist group Al Shabab.zoom
  • Somalian Deputy Prime Minister  Fauzia Yusuf Haji Adan shares a moment with  Abdi Dirshe, left, and Halima Saad, both community activists in Toronto.

Adan’s official visit this week marks a new era in the ties between Somalia, which is still recovering from two decades of civil war and anarchy, and Canada, which has one of the largest Somali diasporas outside Africa.

On Tuesday, Ottawa pledged $6 million to aid counter-terrorism and security efforts by the new Somali government, which took over from a transitional government in 2012.

Adan was among many Somali expatriates who have braved terrorist threats to return to their homeland in recent years. She understands what drives young Somali men, including some from Canada, to join extremist forces.

“I believe it is destitution,” said Adan, who was educated in the United Kingdom and had lived there for 17 years.

“We are aware many young Somali men are without employment. Many came from refugee camps with baggage, coming here without proper education, becoming destructive, doing the wrong things, being in prison, then coming back confused. These young people are being brainwashed to destroy other human beings.”

Adan said she has exchanged ideas with Canadian officials for addressing these issues, including working together to attract the diaspora to work productively in Somalia through internship programs, and setting up a pilot project to rehabilitate young Somalis who have had run-ins with the law here.

That’s music to the ears of Halima Saad, who was among hundreds of members of the Somali diaspora in Greater Toronto who greeted Adan at a community meeting in a north Toronto hotel Thursday night.

“We need to work together to help our youth. Fauzia can influence our young people in a positive direction,” said Saad, who came to Canada with her family in 1991 and now runs Madbakh, a community service agency.

“Fauzia is a brave woman. She is the hope for Somalia to bridge between cultures and bring positive results.”

Hibaq Gelle, a recent Guelph University kinesiology graduate, called Adan a lightning rod for the community, as a progressive, educated woman.

“When you have a government, you have a home and you can engage other countries,” said the 23-year-old Canadian-born Somali youth activist. “We are one of the largest African diasporas here. Having her here is a monumental occasion. She inspires young people, especially young women.”

Adan says young Somalis can play a huge role in rebuilding their ancestral homeland, with the education and skills they gain in their adopted country.

“I came to say thank-you to Canada. I want to bring back the relation with Somalis and rekindle the flame,” Adna noted. “I want to tell the diaspora that the country needs you for rebuilding. Come back and share the pride of the new government and the wealth that Somalia has.”

Abdi Dirshe, president of the Somali Canadian Diaspora Alliance, host of Thursday’s community gathering, believes a new day is dawning for the country.

“Somalia’s future lies in its ties with the rest of the world. We live in a global society. This is a new beginning for Somalia and there is no way we will fail,” said Dirshe.

Adan, who is under constant threat from Al Shabab, would not disclose if she has guards when she travels in Somalia.

But with a laugh, she said: “I feel safe. I go to my office from my home. I move around. We are courageous.”