• Name: Yasmin Ahmed
• Role: Legal and Sanctions Adviser, Supporting Somalia’s National Security Architecture (SSNSA) project
• Location: Mogadishu, Somalia
What’s your big “why”? What’s the positive change/impact you and others in your field are trying to achieve and what are some of the challenges you face whilst doing so?
First and foremost, I want to contribute to the peacebuilding process in Somalia. When I was younger my parents told me a lot of stories about the Somalia they had grown up in – the whitewashed coral buildings, the Moorish arches, men sporting afros and women dressed in their colourful traditional clothes (we call them ‘baatis’). Mogadishu was home to popular hotels, and at parties people would flock to the dancefloor, to dance to all kinds of music. Then, the civil war happened, which was followed by decades of war and poverty. The situation has obviously improved significantly in Somalia since the civil war, but security remains a big concern. So my hope is the next generation will see the kind of Somalia that my parents grew up in.
I really believe in the work I do. I think there is often frustration in the development sector about the level of impact that is achieved, and there’s a perception that it’s an industry which can be easily exploited. But I’m proud of the impact my work is having in building state capacity, particularly for weapons and ammunition management.
Working in the security sector has a lot of challenges – and on top of that, Somalia is a fragile state, and its systems and institutions are relatively weak. For that reason it’s important to think with the local context in mind, and understand that things are going to move more slowly than you might expect. You also have to consider that ministers are often occupied with other important policy matters such as tackling poverty, inequality and the lack of education – there are many other issues that Somalia is facing. Part of the challenge is to get into the right spaces to influence key decision makers.
I’d also add that being a woman working in security has not always been easy, and you’ll encounter people who will try to undermine what you’re saying, or try to ‘mansplain’ things to you. But I am proud to be working in this field, and I hope that other women who see me doing this work will feel encouraged to do the same.
If you could write your own job title that best describes what you do here, what would it be?
A big focus of my role is to ensure that Somalia complies with international standards on weapons and ammunition, for example the need to notify the UN Sanctions Committee about the importation and exportation of arms. I help develop policies that Somalia needs to have in place in order to convince the international community that it’s committed to its weapons and ammunition management, as well as its security as a whole.
This is important because, for a long time, during the civil war and after the collapse of the government, weapons and ammunitions were getting into the wrong hands – they were easily accessible to Al Shabab for instance. We now have to make sure that that is not repeated, and that we support Somalia in adhering to the international standards of arms control.
I have had the opportunity to get involved in other things though, and in reality my role involves just about everything you can imagine! I’ve adopted various ‘acting’ roles at different points. For example, I’ve represented the Office of National Security on occasion, and it’s been a huge honour to be trusted to lead the drafting and shaping of key government strategies. I’ve also had the opportunity to lead on a Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and EU joint threat assessment, which went on to inform key UN security council resolutions.
For me, it’s been important to take on extra work that isn’t necessarily in my job description. One advantage of doing that is that it allows more influence – and I’ve found that your work is far more noticed when you have contributed in other areas, above and beyond what your job officially entails.
What do you like about working in a global development company?
It allows me the opportunity to get involved in very important work – for example by developing some of the strategies that inform key government decisions. I’ve also had the honour and pleasure of presenting the work that we’ve prepared to the Prime Minister and President, and experiences like that have really built my self-confidence. As a Somali woman, ASI has offered me the platform to successfully showcase my work.
The organisational culture at ASI has also provided me with the space that I needed to flourish – it’s been incredible to work with such a supportive team. I have really enjoyed working with my colleagues on the SSNSA project, and it means a lot to know that I can rely on their support. For example, my colleagues’ guidance was instrumental to the development of the Somalia Transition Plan that I recently presented to the Prime Minister and President. Being able to pick the brains of people who have so much experience of working in security is not something I take for granted.
What’s the most exciting thing happening in your project/at work right now?
The Somalia Transition plan, which the SSNSA project supported, is definitely the most exciting thing happening right now. The plan lays out the roadmap for the transition of security responsibilities from the African Union Mission in Somalia to the Somali security forces, and is going to inform what Somalia’s security landscape will look like post-2021 – it’s the result of numerous consultations to get political buy-in, which have been going on since July 2020. It’s really exciting to be involved in that, because it will influence so many strategic decisions about security. The plan has been endorsed by the President and Prime Minister, so the job now is to implement it and working out the coordination mechanisms going forward.
What movements or discussions inspire you generally right now?
I am really inspired by the idea of helping to build a better Somalia for generations to come, and by the young people who contributing to that. I see a lot of young people who have the drive and will to make a difference – both locals and members of the Somali diaspora coming back – and working in all kinds of different ways towards this goal. For example, they are opening up art spaces, working in the music scene, in education, or with women and girls, to name just a few examples. With over 70% of the population in Somalia being under the age of 35, youth are especially important – and it’s inspiring to see the work that they’re doing, despite living in such a fragile security context. They still have faith and hope, and I’m inspired by their resilience.
What volunteering or passion projects do you do outside of work?
I do a lot of mentoring – mainly for young people in the Somali diaspora and in Somalia who have a passion for education. I started doing this with a friend, and we’ve been helping promising and driven young people with university applications, putting them in touch with some of our own contacts to help them to succeed. It’s an informal set-up at the moment but it’s something we are trying to formalise so we can hopefully eventually implement it on a larger scale.
What’s a quality a game changer should have and what’s your ambition to be one?
For me, the main quality is empathy. Working in security in Somalia, things often don’t move very quickly and people can get frustrated. Sometimes when you’re working on a project where you have to meet milestones or deliverables, there can be a lot of pressure, and that can sometimes be channelled or passed on to others in a unhelpful or unkind way. Any effective leader should aspire to have empathy – something which feeds into self-care as well. Bringing that sense of empathy helps you see things differently if you are going through a tough time yourself.