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Ilwad Elman – inspiring Africa and the world

Ilwad Elman briefs the UN Security Council on the human rights situation in Somalia (file photo, 2015)

Ilwad Elman briefs the UN Security Council on the human rights situation in Somalia (file photo, 2015), © Elman Peace & Human Rights Centre

27.10.2020 - Article

At only 30 years old, the Somali-Canadian peace and human rights activist Ilwad Elman is being honoured today with the German Africa Award.

Ilwad Elman’s efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate child soldiers and to support rape survivors is making a remarkable contribution towards positive change in her home country. Her courageous commitment to promoting social peace and assisting the most vulnerable members of society is uniquely inspiring for young men and women in Somalia, Africa and beyond.    

No ordinary life

Ilwad Elman is one of the most impressive voices in the Somali peace process and an acclaimed expert on conflict resolution. She is one of ten members of the Extremely Together Initiative of the Kofi Annan Foundation that fights violent extremism, as well as the youngest advisor of the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund. While a child, Ilwad Elman was forced to flee to Canada with her mother and sisters, due to the civil war and the human rights activities of her parents. Her father Elman Ali Ahmed stayed behind in Somalia to continue his efforts to help former child soldiers. He was tragically murdered in 1996. In spite of this, Ilwad Elman joined her mother in Mogadishu in 2010, so that she could assist – at great personal risk – with the development of her country, which to this day is embroiled in a complex civil war.

At the Elman Peace Centre, which was founded by her mother in honour of her father, Ilwad Elman brought back to life the widely acclaimed “Drop the Gun, Pick up the Pen” initiative that had already disarmed, rehabilitated and reintegrated thousands of former child soldiers. It conducts education programmes designed especially for girls that promote equal opportunity and the integration of women into the education system and the workforce. Ilwad Elman also founded the first centre in Somalia to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in 2010, under the name Sister Somalia. Through her advocacy in this sphere, she played a significant role in the adoption of Somalia’s first legislation on rape and sexual offences.

At such a young age, Ilwad Elman has already been an incredible agent for change. Her commitment gives many people in Somalia hope. It is for this commitment and her personal courage that she is being honoured with the German Africa Award. 

The German Africa Award

The German Africa Award of the German Africa Foundation has been presented annually to laureates from Africa who have earned special recognition for their endeavours in the spheres of, for example, democracy, peace or human rights. This also makes it an important instrument for strengthening and paying tribute to civil society in Africa. In recent years, the award had been presented by Federal President Steinmeier (2017), President of the Bundestag Schäuble (2018) and Federal Chancellor Merkel (2019). This year, it will be conferred by Foreign Minister Maas.

The German Africa Foundation, which was established in 1978, receives institutional support from the Federal Foreign Office and advises the German Government on policy vis-à-vis Africa.

Germany’s efforts to help stabilise Somalia

Human rights and reconciliation are the heart of the Federal Foreign Office’s broad and comprehensive approach to help stabilise Somalia. Peace, women and security – a topic that is central to Ilwad Elman’s work – is a particular priority of these efforts. The Federal Foreign Office has, for example, for many years been supporting the rehabilitation and reintegration of former Al-Shabaab fighters and of women formerly affiliated with the group. Moreover, Germany is significantly involved in efforts to achieve reconciliation between different population groups in Somalia – an area that Ilwad also plays a high-profile role in thanks to her inspiring work.

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