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2019 HOL Person of the Year: The Elman Family

Hiiraan Online Editorial
Friday, January 10, 2020

Many individual Somali nationalists have contributed to the well-being of Somalis and Somali nation over the last few decades. Few families, however, have taken upon themselves to dedicate their lives for rebuilding a nation devastated by civil war, drought and famine, and external interventions. The Elman Family stands out among the families in Somalia which have committed their efforts, resources and their lives to reviving peaceful and stable Somalia. The positive outcomes of their individual and collective efforts are seen and felt in Somalia and across the world. It is against this backdrop that Hiiraan Online’s (HOL) Editorial Board has unanimously agreed to recognize the Elman Family as the 2019 HOL Person of the Year.

The Elman family’s contributions started with the services provided by modern garages and electronic maintenance shops Elman Ali opened across Mogadishu following his return from Italy in the mid to late 1980s.  When the civil war broke out in the 1990s, Elman turned down an opportunity to go back to the stable and attractive life of the West and decided to stay in Mogadishu.  Against the tide of political turmoil and the collapse of the central government, Elman started a campaign to convince the youth of the warring factions to drop the gun and go to school.

Here is where it all started "Drop the Gun, Pick up the Pen" - Elman Ali with his students

Elman’s Drop the gun, pick up the pen idea was the craziest and most unpopular among the warlords whose quest for control and power in Mogadishu and other parts of the country was non-negotiable. Elman foresaw a generation of children who would end up without education, a generation lost to war. In effect, the future of the nation was bleak because the warlords were exploiting the youth to fight for them in the name of clans.

His campaign, Drop the Gun, Pick up the Pen was a rallying call to save the youth and in turn the future of the Somali nation. Elman would, however, not live long to see his dream materialize in full. An assassin’s bullet felled him in Mogadishu in 1996 but his dream nevertheless lived on.

Driven by the will to continue her husband’s legacy, Fartun Adan, Elman’s wife, who had fled with her three daughters to Canada following the civil war, moved back to Mogadishu. She and her three daughters would now lead the Elman Peace Organisation to promote human security and to contribute to rebuilding efforts.

Ilwad Elman and her mother, Fartuun Adan, accept an Oxfam Right the Wrong award -
March 17, 2016 - Photo Oxfam

Fartun and her daughters Almas, Ilwad and Iman joined hands to bring hope to former child soldiers, rape victims and youth in Somalia through skills development, medical services, guidance, counselling and education. The child soldier program, the sister Somalia initiative for rape victims, the mobile rural clinics and social services in Mogadishu, Kismayo, Beletweyn, Baidoa, and Dhusamareb have transformed lives for the better.

Each member of Elman family has also individually made significant contributions: Almas served the nation as a diplomat in Nairobi and was diligently working to contribute to rebuilding efforts when she was shot on November 20, 2019 in Mogadishu, paying the ultimate sacrifice for a country she loved. Iman is an officer in the Somalia National Army, putting her life on the line. She continues to pursue her father’s and her own dream of a peaceful Somalia by dedicating her life to the country’s defence. Fartun and Ilwad continue to promote human rights in Somalia and beyond. They are the founding members of the global movement for treaty on violence against women and girls. More than 1700 activists are now members of this global movement and are advocating for change in the global systems to promote women safety and rights across the world.

The efforts of the Elman family have been recognized globally. Members of the family have been awarded with the Gleitsman International Activist Award by Harvard University, International Women of Courage Award by the US State Department, and the Oxfam Right the Wrong Award. Iwald, a member of the family, has also been shortlisted for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. In speaking at a Toronto gathering to remember Almas, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who visited the Elman centre  stated: “When I went to that centre, the feeling that you have when you are in there, I swear you cannot even describe it”. The American Human Rights Activist and author Lisa Shannon described Almas and the family “Bold and loving”. They are bold and loving indeed as they have chosen to serve a broken society in the midst of insecurity and danger. Elman Ali himself was a loving and generous person. He usually invite the homeless in Mogadishu to dine with the family. Hiiraan Online recognizes the Elman family for honorably serving Somalia during a difficult time. 


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