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Yussur Abrar and Thuli Madonsela: Africa's female whistleblowers

By Bashir Goth - posted Tuesday, 3 December 2013

It was always my belief that if Africa were to change its bad reputation as the citadel of corrupt politicians and a haven for mismanaged foreign aid; it would have to be the continent's women that lead the way.

And this is exactly what happened over the last month when two women of character, Yussur Abrar of Somalia and Thuli Madonsela of South Africa, have stunned the male-dominated corruption infested political systems of the two countries with their fearless actions.

Yusur Adan Abrar, an international banker with three decades of experience in banking, insurance, telecommunications and finance consultancy, was appointed as Somalia's first female governor of the Central Bank in September 2013, a time when the international community pledged $2.4 billion to fund Somali's infrastructural and fiscal reconstruction.


As a professional banker, Abrar knew very well the task ahead of her. To put simply it was the establishment of a comprehensive regulatory framework for the country's financial system and to make the Somali Central Bank accountable for every dollar that reaches its coffers.

However, what she did not anticipate was that the government had appointed her as a ploy to use her stellar record to hoodwink the donor community by using her signature to legitimize shady financial dealings.

Abrar's goal of cleaning the system had become an affront to the Somali politicians' old norm of stealing and enriching themselves on foreign aid and the country's tax revenues.

Soon after she stepped into the building of the bank she was given orders and threats to sanction dubious deals. She was not given enough time to even review the demands and explore if she could find any legal loopholes that could allow her to find a legitimate compromise. All her attempts to win the President's support and to enlighten him about the irreparable damage that sanctioning such deals could cause to the government's credibility fell on deaf ears.

But instead of being enlightened by Abrar's relentless efforts to highlight the need to follow sound financial regulations, the acolytes at the government's corruption alter tried to convert her to the Somali way of doing business and to wean her from what they saw as her unflinching adherence to 'western values'. As she bluntly put it in her letter of resignation to the President, she said: "The message that I have received from multiple parties is that I have to be flexible, that I don't understand the Somali way that I cannot go against your wishes, and that my own personal security would be at risk as a result."

According to the information I received, even President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud himself had at one point accused Abrar of acting like an American: "Ma Maraykan baad iskaga kaaya dhigaysaa.. Are you trying to act like an American to us?" As the Somali proverb says: Madax meel meel la taabto oo sarreeyaa ma jiro… There is no place higher than the head to reach…" Instead of showing leadership and supporting Abrar in her honest efforts to restore badly needed accountability to the country's financial system and safeguarding the resources of the Somali people, the President was in a crusade to re-educate her to the African culture of corruption, the Somali way of Qaataye –Qaado ( I rob and you have your share)



Ironically, there is an element of truth in the President's unbecoming expression. Yes, there was a clash of culture and goals between Abrar and President Mahmoud's administration. Abrar, with her extensive experience in western corporations, her goal was to apply these standards to make the country's banking system acceptable to donor nations and to enable the country achieve economic recovery.

"When I accepted this role, I did so with the interests of the Somali people in mind. Having worked at senior levels at some of the largest financial institutions in the world, I was looking forward to the opportunity to lend my skill sets to rebuild the Central Bank and improve the lives of our people, as the Central Bank is key to the development of the economy. Undoubtedly, economic recovery is critical to this recovery from both a fiscal and security perspective," She wrote in her letter of resignation.

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This article was first published on Horn of African News Update and Analysis

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About the Author

Bashir Goth is a Somali poet, journalist, professional translator, freelance writer and the first Somali blogger. Bashir is the author of numerous cultural, religious and political articles and advocate of community-development projects, particularly in the fields of education and culture. He is also a social activist and staunch supporter of women’s rights. He is currently working as an editor in a reputable corporation in the UAE. You can find his blog here.

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