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Part 2: “Keeping Hope Alive” in Somalia with Hawa Abdi and Daughter Deqo Mohamed

Web ExclusiveApril 16, 2013
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In part two of our interview with Somali human rights activist and physician, Dr. Hawa Abdi, she describes how thousands of Somalis were killed in the 1993 attack in Mogadishu that is best known for killing 18 elite U.S. special forces. She also discusses her book, Keeping Hope Alive, which shares what has happened in the 22 years since the war broke out in her country, and the work she has done at her clinic to offer healthcare and emergency relief to thousands of Somalis. We also speak with her daughter, Dr. Deqo Mohamed.

Click here to see Part 1 of this interview.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we bring you part two of our conversation with Dr. Hawa Abdi, Somalian human rights activist and physician, founder and chairperson of the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 and has written the book Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman—90,000 Lives Changed. We’re also joined by Dr. Hawa Abdi’s daughter, Dr. Deqo Mohamed, who works with Dr. Hawa Abdi, with the foundation and with helping people in Somalia, tens of thousands of people.

Dr. Hawa Abdi, you were kidnapped by the Shabab in the 1990s. You convinced them to release you and, as well, issue a written apology for what they had done. And in the first part of our conversation, Dr. Deqo Mohamed, you referred to Black Hawk Down, what Americans understand is that moment in October, October 3rd, 1993. It was under President Clinton, when U.S. forces, elite forces, were sent into Mogadishu. Ultimately, 18 U.S. forces were killed, some of them dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, a very famous image. What is not as well known in that moment is that thousands of Somalis were killed in that attack. Can you talk about the effect of Black Hawk Down on Somalis, the way Somalis view it?

DR. HAWA ABDI: Because of that issue, we suffered. All over the world, they did not intervene our suffering for 22 years. Our people already—the society did not know what was happening in 1993. Maybe some administration and maybe that was after some administration at that time. And we all were happy when Operation Restore Hope come to us. In my camp at that time, I was burying 50 bodies per day, for starvation and gunshots. But after Operation Restore Hope comes, the mortality became less and less and less, so we were happy. We were not thinking that something like that could happen, but it happened.

DR. DEQO MOHAMED: I think the thoughts of Somali people and in the world in general were different, was way far apart, because as just my mom said, we have any hope. You know, we’re restoring the hope, and Somalis coming with food and peace, you know. U.S. government and rest of the governments came to restore the hope, but when it happened, Black Hawk Down, as you say, thousands of Somalis died. And every family, this pain entered into their homes. So they were devastated, and they didn’t know what to do. They have mixed feeling. You know, we were thinking they’re going to save us; now we’re losing our families, and the fight is continue. So it was very different feeling inside of Somalia than outside of Somalia. And I hope—we are still praying for people who lost their families to be strong. And the situation in Somalia, we hope it will improve.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Hawa Abdi, talk about the project that you have engaged in for decades now in Somalia, the refuge for internally displaced people. What have you established?

DR. HAWA ABDI: Everything is written in my book, Keeping Hope Alive. This book I wrote because I want to share the rest of the world what happened for 22 years inside Somalia.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Deqo Mohamed?

DR. DEQO MOHAMED: Our project is mainly in healthcare. My mom started the hospital in 1983 to give the women in the rural area the healthcare they need, especially to giving birth and accessibility them to have a hospital to deliver, so to decrease the mother and child mortality. Since the war broke out and government collapse in 1991, the foundation increased, and we started doing emergency relief. We’re providing the water for the needy. We’re having a shelter. With the help of World Food Program, we’re providing the food. With the help of different NGOs, we’re trying to continue to provide a free healthcare to the community. It’s not only for mother and child now, for everyone who comes to our door. And now the goal of the foundation is for sustainability. We are also focusing on agriculture and fishing programs to improve people to have—take over their responsibility of their lives and to be sustainable and not dependent on aid or us and our foundation. So, we’re covering many different aspects of the work in the back of Somalia, and we are very excited to have slightly, what we thought, peace—but Sunday broke our hearts—and I hope it will continue. And my mom just mentioned, yes, in the book, a main goal of the book is not only to share her feeling in the society; it’s also to support the foundation, to continue to get the funds and spread the good word to the different people and different areas in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: You are also a real inspiration, both of you, to women. The course you have decided to take in your life as doctors, you are both some of the few women doctors in Somalia. Dr. Hawa Abdi, can you describe how you became a doctor? Tell us who your parents were, what inspired you and where you went for your education.

DR. HAWA ABDI: When I decided to become a doctor, I was very, very young, when my mother, her seventh child, became pregnant, and she was feeling terrible pain, and I could not know how to help her. And my mother died in front of my eyes, without knowing why, which diagnosis. So I decided to be a doctor. What has happened happened to me, but other children of my age, to prevent those pain that I felt.

So, when I finished my secondary school, I get a scholarship from Soviet Union. At that time, sending abroad a daughter in Somalia was very difficult, of course. All elder people were thinking, if you send your daughter, she will be spoiled. And my father, his friend came to him, and they said, “Don’t send your daughter abroad. Otherwise, she will be spoiled.” But my father was educated man. He allowed me to go to Moscow, Soviet Union, in 1964. My study I finished in 1971. I was there seven years.

After I finished my colleague—my college, we finished together. Most of them, they went abroad; they do not come back. But I promised myself to save the other children the pain I was felt. I come back, and I began to work in a big hospital. At that time Mogadishu, in '70s, Somalia was the best city in East Africa, very beautiful, very peaceful, and people like each other. Love was more than hate. That's why I came—became a doctor.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, you went back to Somalia, and you established this refuge for Somalis. How does the country operate without, for so many years, a functioning government? How did the country operate?

DR. HAWA ABDI: The life after our government collapsed, life was very difficult—destruction, killings, looting. Everything bad was happening to Somali families. When we heard African continent is tribalist, Africa is—to develop, it’s very difficult because of tribalism. That tribalism was inside in our country. The country was the best lion of East Africa, became destroyed, the worst country, become, because of tribalism, because of destruction, because of lack of law and order, lack of government for 22 years. It was—life was very disaster, very painful to see what was happening at that time in Somalia. But when I move in our capital and went to outside Mogadishu 21 kilometers from Mogadishu, I was just making—I wanted to help the rural women who has no road to come, no cars to bring during labor at night, late night. So I come near to them, and I began to help women and children at that time. It was 1983. I did not know that become—the government, our government, will be collapsed. But just I wanted out because to help those women and children at late time when they feel—when they need help, to help them, to be near of them.

DR. DEQO MOHAMED: People in Somalia were just—they are survivors for the last 22 years. They try their best to survive, and they just wake up every morning and do as much as they can, finding the food, trying to keep yourself secure, try to make—put your children and your family in a safe place. So it was in a surviving mood for 22 years. And it was chaos without the government, without order, without support. It was tough years. Now we are hoping the new government will establish the peace and prosperity to Somalia.

AMY GOODMAN: And for people in the United States and around the world, what do you think is the way people can be most supportive of peace and a functioning government in Somalia?

DR. HAWA ABDI: Somalia were a remote area for 22 years. International community did not intervene what was happening after Black Hawk Down. But now, thanks God, with the help of the [inaudible]—

DR. DEQO MOHAMED: Yeah, I think—so, international community should give, number one, skills, skills to the new government, to run the government, to know what governance means, and education. Also, finance—financially supporting to establish the government. We are far away from system. Twenty years, everything was broken. Twenty years, there’s no people know how to run the government. I think human resources is the key, number one. And second is development and finance to take care of the government to run properly. And as the moment of you’ve seen on Sunday the blast happen in the court, I think to build the government military strongly and police, that’s also a key, number one.

AMY GOODMAN: And can I ask, the effect of U.S. drone strikes in Somalia? What effect does that have?

DR. DEQO MOHAMED: It has in both sides, in a good and a bad way. It is—we don’t know details. They don’t share with the society. And we don’t know most about what is going on in the strikes. But we—third strikes, life was lost. Families in the village were died. So always trying to capture the good—the bad guys, the civil society also suffers. The poor people, innocent people, suffering, between midst of all that. So I hope next time it will be more effective, and there more no strikes in everywhere in the world.

DR. HAWA ABDI: In conclusion, it is not transparent for us what is happening between our government system and the other foreign international communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Hawa Abdi, Somalian human rights activist and physician, one of the few women physicians in Somalia, founder and chairperson of the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation. She was joined by her daughter, Dr. Deqo Mohamed, also a physician working at her side in Somalia. Dr. Hawa Abdi has just published the book Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman—90,000 Lives Changed. This Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

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