When she was promoted to Brigadier General and appointed Deputy Police Commissioner of the Somali Police Force in 2018, Zakia Hussein Ahmed was elated although she knew the task ahead was tough. She became the first female to achieve this milestone.
Two years later, Gen Zakia, 36, says she has lost count of the number of threats and attempts on her life by organised criminal gangs such as the Al Shabaab. She even survived a car bomb assassination attempt.
Al Shabaab perceives her as the personification against anything they stand for – young, diaspora, female and a high-ranking leader within the security sector.
She also believes that having served as the main media and public relations officer for the armed forces, which has helped security forces with increased information and intelligence sharing from the public leading to the dismantling of terrorists and other criminal networks, put her in the gang’s radar.
But Gen Zakia says she is determined to create change, and that all great achievements require greater sacrifices.
“You live once; make it count!” she says, admitting that the threats have proven to be the most difficult in her work.
“Currently, due to the high threats, my family has opted to stay in the UK where I previously lived.”
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) ranks her as one of the best players in the security sector with her skills to negotiate in conflicts. But this has not been easy because Somalia, and Africa by extension, suppresses or ignores women who are capable of rising to certain positions.
“When you are a woman, you must work 10 times harder than your male colleagues particularly when working in highly patriarchal institutions,” she says.
When she was appointed on August 15, 2018, Gen Zakia had to design her own uniform as she insisted on wearing trousers with long-sleeved shirts that extend right down to the knees, since she was going to lead the police force in a country where women’s dressing is dictated by strict religious rules.
“At first it was frowned upon. However today, I am pleased that the same design has been adopted by female officers within the police and other security institutions,” she says, adding that 12 per cent of the Somali Police Force are women. This amounts to whom are officers.
Gen Zakia says that currently, Somalia ranks the 4th country in Africa with a high number of females serving in the security sector, in line with the UNSC Resolution 1325, which requires States to involve women in peace and security.
“We also recently had a female serving as the Director-General of the Ministry of Defence and the Committee for Security of the Somali Federal Parliament is chaired by a female MP.
Although we have challenges, we have certainly come a long way as a nation to promote women in peace and security,” she says.
She believes in gender equality. Somalia is slowly gaining traction with women serving in high positions of leadership such as deputy prime minister.
The country also has a strong political agreement that guarantees 30 per cent of parliamentarian seats allocated to women.
The Somali Police Force is an active member of Interpol and East Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (EAPCCO), a regional outfit that ensures collaboration in fighting crime through intelligence and information sharing and other forms of strategic cooperation.
Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, DRC Congo, South Sudan and Seychelles are members of the organisation.
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As the Somali National Military (SNA) advances their operations against al Shabaab, Gen Zakia says they have shifted focus to dismantling their financial networks and have conducted successful raids on the financial establishments.
One of those successes, she says, is the dismantling of the forex fraudulent companies that duped many citizens of their hard-earned cash.
Gen Zakia recently featured in Netflix’s ‘World’s Most Wanted Documentaries’, in the episode on Samantha Lewthwaite (White Widow).
Born on February 5, 1984 in Mogadishu, Somalia, Gen Zakia spent her early years in Ents and was very close to her grandfather, a prominent traditional elder in Hiraan region. At the age of six, her family fled the civil war and relocated to Sweden where she spent most of her childhood.
At the age of 22, they relocated to London where she finished her higher education graduating with two Master’s degrees specialising in International Relations and Diplomacy.
While at university, she also began getting more involved in her native Somali community and was soon part of a socio-political global movement led by Somali youths with nationalistic agenda.
She later decided to leave the UK and relocated to Somalia in 2012.
Acknowledging her passion for community development the Police Commissioner appointed her as Director of Community Policing department making her the first female to ever be appointed as a departmental director of the Somali Police Force.
She was later moved to the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) to serve as head of policy planning and in charge of designing and overseeing the implementation of the agency’s intelligence and institutional reform policy.
She has also served as the Director of Strategic Policy, the Director of Organised Crime at the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) of the Somali Police, the Chief of Staff of the Chief Justice Office at the Supreme Court of Somalia and the Director of Security and Public Relations at the Benadir Regional Authority.
Gen Zakia who once served as the Secretary-General of the Hanoolaato Political Party says that since she joined the police force, she ceased engaging in politics as these are strictly forbidden for members of the security forces.
When Prime Minister Hassan Khayre pinned Gen Zakia’s Insignia, he encouraged women to vie for presidency and other higher offices, but she says her passion is on the security sector.
“I know my appointment has encouraged more women to join the security forces. I am also encouraged by the progress Somalia has made in security sector reform and the establishment of rule of law. If I die knowing that I have left Somalia, and Africa for that matter, better than I found it, then I will have made my life count,” concludes Gen Zakia.