Thursday, January 10, 2013
The Horn of Africa region is full of natural resources, wonderful and cultured people, but it is also equally plagued by poverty and politicians who put their narrow interests above those of their electorates, worsening the suffering of the ordinary people who are always the victims of bad politics and selfish politicians.
But one man, Honorable Yusuf Hassan, stands out because of his selflessness and desire to change his constituency that was in tatters for years despite having the potential to become one of the most vibrant estates in the capital, Nairobi.
Hon. Hassan has also become, within a short period of time, a force to be reckoned with after he fearlessly stood up for the rights of the Somali community who were wrongly stereotyped as terrorists, pirates and illegal aliens.
Hon. Hassan was elected to represent Nairobi City’s Kamukunji constituency in Kenya’s parliament a little over a year ago. His constituency covers much of Eastleigh, the shopping district of Nairobi, where large Somali population of both Kenyan and Somali origin live and run major businesses. Despite its thriving economy and the appreciable revenue it generates for the city, Eastleigh’s infrastructure was crumbling and its populations was by and large marginalized as reflected in the delivery of services in the area before Hon. Hassan was elected. Immediately after he clinched the Kamukunji seat, Hon. Hassan started his political fight, as promised in his hard fought campaign, to address the constituency’s complex social, economic, and political problems. Although one could say little can be accomplished in a year and half, Hon. Hassan, with his remarkable acumen in social and political matters, managed to secure key infrastructure development projects from the government, and has at the same time earned the trust of Eastleigh’s business community, resulting in growth in government revenues. While these achievements deserve to be appreciated, Hiiraan Online recognizes Hon. Hassan for different reasons.
We recognize Hon. Hassan for the leadership he has shown in the face of crisis at home and beyond. Against the backdrop of Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia and al-Shabab’s declaration to attack Kenya, string of bombs have jolted the Kamukunji constituency, producing clouds of fear and suspicion among the diverse communities of this area. In responding to these challenges, Hon. Hassan launched massive campaign- organized rallies, knocked on doors, met political, business, and religious leaders -to create peace and harmony in the area. When some media outlets and political actors were- and some still are- engaged in poisonous rhetoric that ‘frames’ particular ethnic groups of Eastleigh as al-Shabab sympathizers, Hon. Hassan worked hard to bring the community together so that they can discuss and debate on ways to fight terrorism and work with concerned security institutions to maintain peace and harmony. He was on this mission when anti-peace elements attempted to assassinate him on December 7, 2012. Hon. Hassan is currently being treated in South Africa for injuries he suffered from that attack.
Speaking of South Africa, it is important to note that Hon. Hassan spent his youthful years opposing the apartheid system in S. Africa. With comrades such as Mbeki, and Mandela, Hon. Hassan participated in the creation of today’s modern South Africa, South Africa that embraces diversity and is devoid of discrimination. Mr. Hassan’s fight for social justice continues at home-Kenya- and in Africa at large.
Hon. Yusuf Hassan with anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela
In the summer of 2011, when Hon. Hassan was working as a UN official and Somalia was struck by a famine, he has relentlessly advocated for meaningful interventions to address the plight of the Somali people.
A former journalist and a UN official, Yusuf Hassan was the unlikely politician when he decided to serve his community. In a glowing profile, Kenya’s largest newspaper, the Daily Nation, said Hassan’s personality “cannot entirely be brand[ed] as a journalist, human rights activist or a politician. He is all of them.” Hassan’s motivation and guidance in life is what the Daily Nation described as his “rebel” nature that “can’t stand oppression.”
Like all Kenyan politicians, Hon. Hassan is constrained by the rowdy nature of politics in his country: the unforgiving and at times cut-throat, zero-sum game transactions that compel politicians to cave in and join the trenches of their ethnic ghetto. But the lanky, quiet Hassan truly represents and champions the interests of his community.
Married to a fellow journalist, Susannah Price, Hassan is a father of five children.
As a champion for the welfare of the tens of thousands of Somalis across Kenya, as a man who has refused to succumb to political pressure even when he was forcibly exiled from his country for advancing human rights, as man who fought apartheid, and has dedicated his life to social justice in Kenya and Africa at large, as a man who unified a polarized community in Kamukunji behind a harmonious agenda, the HOL editorial board has unanimously agreed to recognize Hon. Yusuf Hassan as the Hiiraan Online 2012 person of the year.
Somalis, Kenyans, and Africans everywhere are wishing him a speedy recovery during these difficult times. His supporters, in particular, wish him well and expect him to come back to the campaign trail to win re-election in 2013.