The Somali general fighting al-Shabab and the patriarchy | Features

When Zakia Hussen Ahmed attended her first assembly within the Somali police drive as a director of neighborhood policing, a junior male officer requested her to “rise up and fetch some tea” for him assuming that the 29-year-old was a secretary to one of many senior officers, since she was not in her uniform.

She determined to make use of the incident as a chance to provide a lesson. “I realised no matter step I take subsequent would decide how the remainder of the group and senior officers would view me,” Hussen, now 38, stated.

So, she calmly commanded the junior officer – who was shocked as one other officer informed him she was the brand new director – to fetch his personal tea and produce her a cup too. “He not solely received as much as give a salute but additionally went out to fetch his personal tea plus an additional cup for me as ordered,” she stated.

In Somalia’s male-dominated safety forces, such condescension is a daily encounter for the few feminine officers. In keeping with Hussen, Somalia has a 14,000-strong police drive. Solely a tenth of that determine is ladies, despite the fact that a variety of youthful feminine officers have joined the drive within the final 10 years, serving in numerous capacities nationwide.

Since 1991, when President Mohamed Siad Barre – who had held energy since being enthroned by a cold coup in 1969 – was overthrown, sparking a protracted battle between clan strongmen, non secular hardline teams and different rival factions, Somalia has been tormented by lawlessness. After a collection of fragile reconciliation offers, a United Nations-backed federal authorities was endorsed in 2012, which handed energy to the present administration in 2017.

As Somalia’s post-conflict state-building journey continues to make sluggish however regular progress, each little effort to revive the collapsed establishments counts considerably. Members of the diaspora like Hussen who’ve returned residence, are fiercely dedicated to accelerating that progress.

General Zakia Hussen takes a salute from officers while on duty in SomaliaBasic Zakia Hussen takes a salute from officers whereas on responsibility. [File: Mohamud Utaama]

From her first day within the police drive, she says she determined that daring actions and braveness could be the guiding rules to navigate a patriarchal establishment serving in a deeply conservative society.

Within the following 5 years after her position in command of neighborhood policing, Hussen labored in numerous companies, together with the Prison Investigation Unit, the Intelligence Company and the workplace of the Chief Justice. Most of her work centered on reform, institutional constructing and police relations with the general public.

In August 2018, Hussen was promoted to brigadier general and appointed because the deputy police commissioner, turning into the primary lady to ever obtain the rank within the historical past of Somalia’s safety forces.

‘An undisputed instance’

Hussen was solely six years outdated when her household fled the civil warfare and settled within the southern metropolis of Eslöv, Sweden. There, she spent most of her teenage life earlier than transferring to the UK the place she grew to become actively concerned in London’s vibrant Somali neighborhood.

In 2005, whereas learning worldwide relations on the London Metropolitan College, she served as vp of the Islamic Society, serving to to sort out Islamophobia and produce numerous teams collectively. After graduating, she joined Hanoolaato, a diaspora-led sociopolitical motion that advocates for peace and improvement in Somalia.

“I vividly recall my first impression of Zakia after I noticed her give a speech at a diaspora occasion within the UK round 2010-11,” stated Abdi Barud, former adviser to the Somali prime minister. “Her speech was stuffed with knowledge and galvanizing and I knew proper then that she would go far.”

Years later, when Hussen grew to become deputy police chief, Barud labored together with her to modernise the police division’s communications division – introducing common media briefings and a publicly accessible helpline for the primary time, amongst different reforms.

“I believe Basic Zakia is an undisputed instance that the ‘glass ceiling’ [for women] is breakable with a supportive community, self-determination and exhausting work,” he stated.

It was Hussen’s work with the diaspora motion that impressed her to return to Somalia in 2012 to play a task within the reconstruction of the Horn of Africa nation. But it surely was not a straightforward resolution.

“Going again to a spot you left at six for the primary time, with out your dad and mom and never having some other member of the family was extraordinarily difficult,” she stated. “However I do know I’ve their blessings and prayers and that’s the biggest gasoline to my hearth.”

In late 2012, Hussen first started working within the capital Mogadishu with the Heritage Institute think-tank as a programme supervisor. In that position, she engaged with civil society organisations and authorities establishments, together with the police drive which she would ultimately be part of a yr later.

Everybody, together with her dad and mom, objected or outrightly disapproved of that call to enlist within the police. Even her mentors warned of the hazards of becoming a member of a safety outfit tackling one among Africa’s deadliest violent teams.

Not lengthy after she joined the drive, al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-linked armed group looking for to unseat the Somali federal authorities, started sending her demise threats.

The threats intensified when she grew to become deputy police chief. Landmines and different makes an attempt failed, she stated, together with a automotive bomb that exploded a day after she travelled to London.

“As a commander, younger and feminine [from the diaspora], I’m the personification of every part they stand towards,” stated Hussen. “At one level, I needed to depart the nation for a few days as the upcoming risk towards my life was very robust.”

Quite than backing down, the overall has change into the face of the Somali police drive, which has been struggling to construct public belief following longstanding allegations of abuse, corruption, rape and exploitation.

“Placing the neighborhood on the coronary heart of policing has been a key strategy to my work and I imagine it’s the key to defeating terrorism,” she stated. The crime reporting hotline and different programmes she instituted are bringing the police in direct communication with the communities they serve.

Hussen can also be keen about combating deeply rooted stereotypes towards ladies in Somalia every day “primarily attempting to alter the attitudes in direction of feminine management in Somalia”.

Because the highest-ranking feminine officer ever in Somalia, the overall is seen as a task mannequin not only for the ladies within the drive however your complete feminine inhabitants. In 2021, she established the primary all-female armed particular forces unit, which she has stated is one among her biggest achievements.

The 50 members of the all-female unit, all between the ages of 25 and 30, have been skilled in Turkey. They’ve been built-in into the Haramcad (Somali phrase for cheetah) Particular Police Forces, additionally skilled by Turkish forces as a part of its geostrategic help to Somalia. Collectively, they perform particular operations and supply day-to-day help to different police items within the capital.

“They function a part of our counterterrorism police brigade, conducting raids and operations towards al-Shabab cells alongside their male counterparts,” she stated.

In February 2019, she led a big operation as the one feminine in a particular squad. It was her first main operation as a deputy chief and a fancy hostage state of affairs throughout an al-Shabab assault in central Mogadishu.

After a gun battle that lasted all night time, the safety forces saved 45 civilians trapped in that assault however misplaced 11 officers. The ache of dropping her colleagues hit Hussen exhausting and made her “really feel sick to my abdomen”.

The next morning, she acquired a name from the president who thanked her for her bravery and coolheadedness. “As I hung up the cellphone,” she stated. “I realised that is what it means to be Somalia’s strongest lady; pure ache, pure delight.”

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