Fadumo’s life had everything to be a tragedy. Everything but her consent.
Daughter to deported parents, civil war fugitive and refugee in Europe, she’s now a public health expert and an award-winning activist, the first ever woman to hold the job of National Director for UN Somalia, with three Master’s degrees (one of them from Harvard) and she’s currently a PhD fellow at Helsinky University. Oh yeah, she’s also a presidential candidate.
If anyone deserves the title of Life Rebel, that someone is Fadumo Dayib. Lovingly known by the Somali people as Deeqo (which means “gift”), Fadumo’s way was paved with bricks of sheer willpower..
Her mother fled from Somalia to Thika, in Kenya, in search of better sanitary conditions, after losing no less than eleven children to otherwise preventable diseases. Fadumo’s father is a truck driver. In fact, he is the truck driver that gave Deeqo’s mother a lift, ending up marrying her along their trip to Kenya. There, in 1972 Fadumo Dayib is born.
The Dayib family survives in poverty, without much of a chance of providing for Fadumo and her brothers’ studies, but their thirst for knowledge is unrelenting. Both her parents were illiterate, but tenacious, and fully understood the value of an education. Her father spoke several languages and her mother worked hard selling tea by the roadside - all so that their children would have the privilege of going to school.
At the age of eleven, Fadumo learns how to read and write, and succeeds in completing all school levels she was missing in only five years, quickly making up for lost time. At age fourteen, she dreams of being a UN Secretary in Kenya. Every Saturday, she goes with her mom to “visualize her dream”. They stand in front of the entry gate to the UN compound, both talking themselves into that yes, it was possible. Life was not easy, but it was possible. Until it wasn’t.
In 1989, the Dayib are deported from Kenya and forced back to Mogadishu, in their homeland of Somalia. The whole country is in turmoil. The dictatorship lives its final days, and the regime is holding on to power with a desperate grip. Fadumo and her brothers’ schooling ends abruptly. Fadumo’s mother is even briefly imprisoned, due to suspicions of her brother (Fadumo’s uncle) funding a rebel group. Less than a year later, the Civil War breaks out. Life is, again, no longer possible. By that time, Fadumo’s mother, already divorced, decides to sell all of her possessions so that her three children escape as refugees.
In Europe, Fadumo kept her laser focus. She lands in Moscow with no money, assets, or knowledge of the language. All she has is two famished and disoriented toddlers - her brothers. Deeqo, no more than eighteen years old, can successfully lead the trio into Finland, the country that fostered them ever since, in 1990.
Here, she restarts her education, with a very clear purpose: going back to Africa and fulfilling her dream, allowing for so many little girls like her to dream as well. She studies to become a critical care nurse and earns her first two Master's degrees: health care sciences and public health. She meets her husband and starts a family of her own. But this was not enough.
Come 2005, the time has arrived. Her country’s cry for help is too loud to ignore. Fadumo joins the United Nations and goes back to Somalia, leaving her family behind, with no more than a simple “I have to be there.” With her, only her newborn infant, who still needed to breastfeed. She spends her first night a long, long way from the commodities she had grown accustomed to in Europe, but Deeqo seeks another type of comfort: “The first night I slept soundly. I felt I was at home. I was on a mattress, but that was the best thing I ever could have ever done in my life.”
She focuses on maternal health issues and mother-to-child HIV transmission prevention, setting up clinics across the country, rising through the ranks to become the first ever woman to hold the position of country director in UN Somalia. After six months, she needs to be evacuated due to security concerns. No hassle - Fadumo takes advantage of this “break” to finish her public administration Master’s degree at Harvard.
From there, she set off to Fiji and Liberia, where she set up HIV prevention clinics and trained health care professionals. She also works with the private sector, in programs to aid the employment of refugees. All that without dropping her activism work on gender equality, specifically against female genital mutilation in several African countries. She is now finishing up her PhD on women’s government participation and empowerment in post-conflict societies at Helsinky University.
Over a decade after her return to Somalia, and having witnessed how Liberia managed to start lifting itself up from the humanitarian crisis that swept the country, Fadumo felt that it still wasn’t enough. What was missing? Running for President.
When she announces her candidacy, Fadumo knows that her chances are nearly naught. As with so many other things in Deeqo’s life, her presidential run is not only symbolic, but trailblazing: “Anyone who is competent and qualified … they are never going to win. If you are not corrupt you will not get into the system. I will never pay one cent to anyone so the likelihood of me winning is non-existent.”
It’s not about winning. It’s about showing, yet again, that yes, it is possible. "If a woman can do all of these things, she has every right to lead the country because she is already leading the country on so many fronts," said Dayib. "We will no longer negotiate for our existence."
Fadumo did not win in 2016. But she mobilized a whole generation of Somalis, from all ages, genders and walks of life. Fadumo lives now in her beloved Somalia, with her husband and four children. But this is not the end of the story.
Having waited 26 years to return to her country, Deeqo isn’t tired: “I have no doubts that I will be the president in Somalia and I'm willing to wait it out for the next 20 years if necessary. All I want is for my people to reach their full potential and exercise their constitutional rights”.
Fadumo Dayib is not the hero Somalia deserves, she’s the hero Somalia needs. During all these years, Fadumo never backed down from a struggle. The challenges she has surmounted, come hell or high water, are countless. And all with a common purpose: they were all for the betterment of society as a whole. She spent her whole life showing us that it is possible. That she can and she’s determined - her most striking feature - to show that it is possible.
We can hardly wait to see Fadumo as President!
It is truly wonderful to see, in a country that has suffered so greatly over the past few decades, the rise of a rebel whose will can move the entire World!
You can do it, Fadumo!