At a ceremony on Tuesday evening, Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas presented the German Africa Award 2020 to Somali peace activist Ilwad Elman. With the award, the German Africa Foundation honours the young Somali woman for her outstanding social and political commitment to the Somali peace process.
About 80 guests from politics, business and society gathered in the Allianz Forum at the Brandenburg Gate, under strict compliance with the applicable hygiene regulations, attended the event, which was followed online by several hundred spectators.
Maas praised Ilwad Elman as a “very dignified, inspiring and deeply human laureate” who, “at just 30 years old, has been standing up for the weakest in her society for a decade”. Ilwad Elman was representative of a growing generation of young African women “who, full of creativity and courage, are breaking new ground and changing societies”.
Maas also called for the partnership between Africa and Europe to be expanded and for the image of Africa in the country to be reconsidered. “If we listen more to voices from Africa, the walls of disinterest and prejudice will fall. Then we will recognise what really unites us and that is much more than we really believe,” the foreign minister added.
Ilwad Elman’s work in Somalia is not without risks – her father and sister lost their lives. At the same time, the work of the Elman Peace Centre demonstrates that Somalia is more than just a country shaken by crises and wars. Despite much social and political resistance, the young hopeful can point to a number of successes in implementing women’s rights and creating future prospects for Somalia’s youth.
In 2010, at the age of 20, Ilwad Elman and Sister Somalia founded the country’s first care centre for victims of sexual violence – there are now nine centres of this kind in the country. Elman made a significant contribution to the adoption of the first law in Somalia that criminalises sexual offences. Another focus of Ilwad Elman’s work is the reintegration of child soldiers: Under Ilwad’s leadership, the initiative Drop the Gun, pick up the Pen of the Elman Peace Centre in Mogadishu has enabled thousands of former child soldiers to return to civilian life.
Ilwad Elman describes the German Africa Award as a great honour for herself and her work with the Elman Peace Centre. “There are 700 million young Africans under 30 years of age. To be recognised as one of them fills me with great pride,” she said in an interview with moderator Sabrina N’Diaye.
Elman sees Somalia’s young people as the key to success on the road to sustainable peace in her country, whose potential has not yet been fully realised: “We need to involve young people more, teach them the ability to think critically and offer them vocational qualifications. Young people need to be empowered to take on leadership roles; ideally, this needs to be institutionalised”.
To reach young people, Ilwad Elman is particularly present in the social media – over 70,000 people follow her on Twitter, almost 150,000 on Instagram. She is also concerned with putting the media image of Somalia in perspective: “I want to show that there is much more to Somalia than war – there is life, community, laughter, stability and innovation. We are a virtually cashless society and have one of the fastest internet connections on the African continent”. Such positive developments also need to be made better known in Europe, said the young prize winner.
Sola Jolaoso with DAS press release