Somalia’s Shabab occupy beloved “Mama Hawa” camp
February 27, 2012
Dr. Hawa Abdi, known as Mama Hawa in Somalia, is shown with her daughter Deqo Mohamed, 36, also a doctor.
MICHELLE SHEPHARD/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
Somali fighters linked to Al Qaeda have occupied part of a camp and hospital run by Dr. Hawa Abdi, a fearless 65-year-old obstetrician, gynecologist and lawyer who is regarded as a hero among Somalis and affectionately known as “Mama Hawa.”
Along with her daughters Deqo and Amina Mohamed, Hawa has defied odds by offering a home and medical care for 90,000 displaced Somalis just 20 kilometres from Mogadishu, an area of unrelenting violence.
Hawa said an Islamic court run by Al Shabab, a group of radical Islamists, decreed Sunday night that part of her land no longer belonged to her, causing a mass exodus of doctors, patients and occupants to Mogadishu, which is under control of an African Union peacekeeping mission and Somali government forces.
The land that was reportedly awarded to a Shabab business associate by a court operating in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region housed camps for 400 internally displaced Somalis.
“This is so awful,” a distraught Hawa said in a telephone interview from Nairobi Monday.
“They don’t know Islamic laws or civil laws. They just have guns and they know how to kill.”
Hawa and her daughters recently left Somalia for Kenya following death threats – although facing danger for their work is nothing new.
In 2010, a force of 750 members belonging to the Hizbul Islam stormed the compound and held Hawa at gunpoint. The fighters told her she was unfit to run the facility since she was female and old. Hizbul Islam, led by Sheikh Dahir Awyes, would later join the Shabab for a brief period.
“I said to them, ‘What have you done for Somalia? Look what I have done,’” she said in an interview with the Star last summer in Montreal, recounting the ordeal.
Hawa wouldn’t budge and refused to leave her land, prompting an army of the women who lives she had saved, to surround the camp and order her release.
Amazingly, after 10 hours they did.
But the situation in Somalia has recently changed with Shabab officially merging with Al Qaeda this month and the remaining terrified residents are bracing for anticipated clashes as AU forces move into the area.
“It has never been this bad,” Hawa said Monday.
Hawa began her philanthropic vision in 1983 with one delivery room built on her ancestors’ land and a mission to treat women who were dying in childbirth. Today, the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation camp has hospitals, residences, two fresh water wells and an adjacent farm to help feed its occupants.
Hawa’s work has always been revered in Somalia but went largely unnoticed internationally until writer Eliza Griswold featured her in her book The Tenth Parallel.
In 2010, Hawa became one of Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year, featured alongside other humanitarians and celebrities like Cher and Fergie.
The magazine described her as “equal parts Mother Teresa and Rambo.”