MINA Mohamed Abdi was just 24 when she first stood for Somalia’s parliament in 2012, defeating two other candidates to win a seat reserved for women and defying elders from her Hawiye clan, some of whom denounced her as immodest.
“I was asked ‘you want to be a prostitute? How can a woman represent a clan?'” she told Reuters. “I insisted and said a clan is not composed only of men.”
Four years later, she won an open seat in Hiran, a region north of the capital Mogadishu.
Now 32, and having carved herself a reputation as one of the government’s most vocal and visible critics, she will vie for a third term in an overdue election – the only woman in a field of six contesting the same seat.
She said growing up during a civil war that began in 1992 made her want to enter politics to help rebuild her country.
She remembers returning from school in Mogadishu as an eight-year-old to find her house empty and her family gone after fighting broke out. “Everywhere there were gunshots and mortar shells were landing,” she said.
A member of the opposition Union and Peace for Development party and now one of 81 women lawmakers in the 275-seat legislative chamber, she later lived with her uncle, himself a parliamentarian, who inspired her further.
“I was … brought up … in a country when there was no government,” she said. “It is necessary for our children to have a government in order to get the basic rights: security, clean water, and quality education.”
Abdi has translated those wishes into fiery speeches that have resonated beyond parliament, labelling the government corrupt and incapable of protecting Somalia’s 15 million people, accusations that it denies.
“Lawmaker Amina is not from my state but I love her,” Canab Hussein, a Mogadishu shopkeeper and mother of six, told Reuters.
“I learnt (about her) over the radio and on Facebook and YouTube. She is a role model, a smart female politician. She bravely speaks the truth.”
Initially due in December, parliamentary elections have been repeatedly delayed after the opposition accused President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed of packing the electoral board with his allies.
The postponement sparked protests in Mogadishu and the opposition has threatened a boycott of the rescheduled vote – a process to elect first senators and then legislators that could get under way this month – if the electoral board is not disbanded. Talks are ongoing.
Winners of the two-stage ballot will select Somalia’s next president. That vote is scheduled for Feb. 8 but is almost certain to be delayed.
President Mohamed is seeking a second term. He was elected in 2017 after promising to ensure the military was paid regularly, but the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgency, which was driven out of Mogadishu by African Union troops in 2011, still mounts frequent attacks.