Iman Elman: SNA's driving force behind security reforms in Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia - Serving in national security forces is one of the most difficult duties anywhere in the world, which only a few but determined individuals undertake, sometimes under pressure or compromising situations.
And it's even more passionate and compelling to find women servicing in armed forces, which has been traditionally mistaken for men's job, especially in the patriarchal African set-up.
But for Lieutenant Colonel Iman Mahamoud Ali Elman, serving in the army is one of the most fundamental "privileges" which she remains grateful to having been bestowed upon her by the Somali National Army [SNA].
Enlisted in 2011, Iman Elman has over the years witnessed the progressive transformation of SNA, which has been built from scratch following political upheavals and Al-Shabaab insurgency, which describes Somalia's misfortunes over decades.
Practically, SNA could be one of the weakest force in the world, but may not miss from rapidly raising armed forces, thanks to robust reforms engineered by those in ranks and partners.
At that rank, Ms. Ali involves herself in more technical work, including staff roles, but which are critical in executing strategy and plan, which is usually implemented either at higher levels or even at the battlefield.
Entrusted with Chief J5 Planning and Strategy roles, the youthful Corp is one of the key pillars towards pushing for radical reforms and promotion of peace and stability in the war-ravaged nation, she notes.
"I have observed all the work that has gone into the security sector. To see how far reforms have come and to bear witness on improvement," she told Somali Security Sector Reforms, in commemoration of Women History Month.
"Together, we can keep the momentum of building a reputable, respectable and strong army," added Col. Elman, who joined the service when it was improbable for women, but now a priority for the SNA as part of reforms.
One of the major tasks she undertakes includes giving guidance and direction by providing leadership in SNA, she said, adding that "there is nothing more gratifying than seeing plans coming to fruition in real time" when guiding operations in pursuit of peace and stability.
For the last three decades, Somalia has struggled to form a formidable force, leave alone a functional government. And throughout various piloting, clan antagonism and Al-Shabaab menace have often derailed such efforts.
Women and children have borne the brunt of such unprecedented conflicts, which have left thousands displaced and hundreds dead, the UN observes in the UNHCR report.
There is a sizable number of them in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, some who are still unwilling to be repatriated due to frequent Al-Shabaab attacks, despite milestones in building a stable state.
But for Elman, women should play an integral role in the pursuit of peace and stability in Somalia, whether through the armed forces or in other meaningful platforms, if any, she said.
"Women must keep step into leadership as part of Somalia's efforts to achieve peace," noted Elman, who is a commissioned officer. "Women suffer a huge burden due to insecurity and need to be taken seriously as a crucial voice in the conversation about peace."
The US is one of the major key security partners in Somalia. Besides helping in aiding aerial attacks against the insurgents, US military trains and equips SNA's Infantry Brigade of Danab, which has liberated dozens of villages from Al-Shabaab.
The Turkish government also trains Gorgor troops under their mission in Somalia. To establish a stable and dependable force, the US, which has about 500 personnel in Somalia, could stay until 2027, AFRICOM said.
And with the prevailing circumstances, Elman said "the road ahead of us is long but together, we can work into restoring glorious past of our National Armed Forces" in her quest to have a stable Somalia.
With such uncompromising dedication, Elman's efforts to drive change in Somalia have often attracted national leadership, which has often encouraged women recruitment to SNA for the purpose of bridging the affirmative action gap.
"We stand with our strong and capable women, particularly, we stand with our women in the armed forces.
Proud of Colonel @Imaan_Elman and her contribution to the arduous reform of SNA," said Abdullahi Hamud, the state minister in PM's office.
The FGS has implemented a host of leadership reforms within the SNA, which is part of minimum irreducibles by partners who have often encouraged transparency, accountability, and efficiency of security sectors.
Some of these reforms include financial management and procurement guidelines for SNA and Functional Capacity Assessment conducted for FGS/FMS sector oversight institutions, authorities said.
And these reforms contributed to the US' recent decision to resume financial assistance towards the SNA troops, which had previously been suspended due to lack of accountability and massive corruption.
While Elmas could be arguably one of the senior-most women in the force, her path could have been cleared before by other women, notably Fatuma Ali Rageh, who was killed last year following an IED explosion near the presidential palace.
At that time, Major General Fatuma, alias Fay Ali, had been promoted to Chief of Operations for the Special Forces Danab. She had previously worked alongside AU forces in the battle to recapture Mogadishu from Al-Shabaab in 2011.
Last year, President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo promoted also Gen. Yusuf Rageh Odawaa, 33, to the Chief of Defense Forces position, becoming the youngest soldier to hold the lucrative post in Somalia's history.