Somalia: Somali PM Appoints Country's First Female Foreign Minister.

The Guardian

The new prime minister of Somalia, rated as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman, has appointed a female foreign minister. Fauzia Yusuf Haji Adan was one of two women chosen to join a lean cabinet of 10 ministers charged with leading the east African country out of decades of conflict and building on military gains made against the Islamist militants of al-Shabaab.

It is the first time a woman has held such a senior position in the conservative Muslim state.

Haji Adan, who was also appointed deputy prime minister, said her nomination was a milestone for the women of Somalia. "It turns a new page for the political situation of our country," she told reporters in the capital Mogadishu.

In a 2011 global survey TrustLaw found Somalia was the fifth worse place in the world to be a woman. About 95% of Somali girls undergo genital mutilation (pdf), usually between the ages of four and 11, domestic violence is commonplace and access to education is rare. When the survey was released, the then minister of women, now named minister for development and social affairs, Maryan Qasim Ahmed, said she was surprised Somalia was not in first place, describing it as "a living hell".

The rebels of al-Shabaab, which is allied to al-Qaida, have also made the lives of women worse in the areas they control in southern Somalia, banning music, films, musical ringtones. The group has carried out public whippings of women for wearing bras.

The US under secretary of state for political affairs, Wendy Sherman, who visited Mogadishu on Sunday, said the inclusion of two women was "a positive reflection of the important role women play in all aspects of Somali life", statement from the state department.

Some analysts warned that Haji Adan's nomination could be divisive, given her previous role in politics in , which declared independence in 1991 but has not been internationally recognised. She tried unsuccessfully to register a political party there this year.

"She is unlikely to be viewed as trustworthy among the Somalis," said JPeter Pham, director of the Africa programme at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

"The very fact that she was, until her very public failure, engaged in the politics of secessionist Somaliland will raise doubts among Somalis in the southern and central regions about her loyalty to the unionist cause."

Pham said the appointment was "inexplicable except as, perhaps, a bit of political theatre and gender balancing for the benefit of foreign donors".

Announcing the new government on Sunday, the prime minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid, said he had appointed "a lean, effective cabinet that can lead the government in this difficult situation and that can bring full, reliable peace".

The new cabinet marks a break both in size and composition from its bloated predecessor, the UN-backed transitional government that was condemned for being corrupt and ineffective.

Shirdon Saaid might, however, face a battle as he seeks parliamentary approval for his nominations in a fragile country where the balance of power between rival clans and sub-clans has often been a source of conflict.

After years of UN-brokered talks, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a professor and activist, was elected president of Somalia in September – the first time a leader has been chosen inside the country since warlords ousted the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

The election coincided with a military push by African Union troops, known as Amisom, culminating in the withdrawal of al-Shabaab forces from their stronghold in the southern port city of Kismayo.

But al-Shabaab remains a threat, regularly carrying out bomb attacks in Mogadishu. On Wednesday, a car loaded with explosives detonated in a car park beside the parliament building.

Earlier this week, al-Quida leader Ayman al-Zawahri urged al-Shabaab to fight back against "crusader invaders". The statement was made in a video posted on an Islamist website, Reuters reported.