On December 2011, an audience in Hargeisa, the main city of the self-declared republic of Somaliland, applauded the tall, well-educated politician as she walked past a group of men and onto a podium.
On this day, Hargeisa, a city of some half million souls, was celebrating the formation of three new political parties, all promising change in how the semi-autonomous region was governed.
Fawzia’s Nabad, Dimuqraadiyad iyo Barwaaqo (NDB) — Peace, Democracy and Prosperity party — was one of these three parties, and she entered the history of this self-declared republic as the first woman to lead a political party in one of the world’s most patriarchal countries.
Since declaring its independence in 1991, Somaliland’s politics has been dominated by three national political parties: The ruling Kulmiye Party, Ururka Dimuqraadiga Ummadda Bahawday (UDUB) — United Peoples’ Democratic Party — and Ururka Caddaalada iyo Daryeelka (UCID) — The Justice and Welfare Party.
But the current president, Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, has revised the law to allow the registration of new political parties.
As a result, about 20 political parties now jostle for the attention of voters in Somaliland.
As she celebrated the formation of her NBD party in Hargeisa, Fawzia proudly announced to the audience that the very basis of her party was to protect the “secession of the Somaliland Republic”.
Barely a year later, she crossed over to Mogadishu, the capital of a country she wanted to secede from, and was sworn in on November 19 last year as Somalia’s first female deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister.
Mutating political alliances and shifts are not uncommon in the tumultuous waters of the politics of the former Somali Republic (Somaliland, South Central and Puntland); it has become something of a norm, where political interests hold supreme.
“These shifts are normal for self-interested politicians and it has been like that for the last 20 years,” says Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad of the University of Nairobi.
In October 2012, Somaliland appointed Saleban Isse Ahmed to the Cabinet, a move that might look bizarre given the fact that, till then, he was anti-secession.
Ahmed was the leader of unionist militias that fought against Hargeisa’s forces in the Sool, Sanaag and Cayn (SSC) region of northern Somalia.
The hawkish man, a former businessman from Ohio, was a candidate in Puntland’s presidential elections in 2009 as well, but he lost to the current president Abdirahman Farole.
Puntland, a semi-autonomous administration in north-eastern Somalia, jostles with Somaliland for control of the border areas between the two regions.
When she initiated her party in December 2011, Fawzia seemed to have learnt that independent candidates hardly succeed in Somali politics.
She ran as an independent in the 2003 Somaliland election and lost. However, she has become, in the process, a taboo breaker as the first female from Somaliland to run for such a high-stakes political office.
When she first entered into politics, Fawzia was hopeful that women would prefer her over men, but that did not happen.