Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas presented the German Africa Award 2020 to Somali peace activist Ilwad Elman in a ceremony on Tuesday evening. With this award, the German Africa Foundation honours the young Somali for her outstanding social and political commitment to the Somali peace process.
For this occasion, 80 guests from politics, business and civil society gathered at the Allianz Forum at the Brandenburg Gate in compliance with the applicable hygiene regulations. Online, the event was watched by several hundred spectators. Maas praised Ilwad Elman as a “very worthy, 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 is representative of a growing generation of young African women “who, full of creativity and, together, with a lot of courage, are breaking new ground and changing societies.” Here, Germany could still learn a lot from Africa, he said, since on our neighboring continent “behind every fourth business start-up is a woman” – a figure that is high even on a global level. Maas went on to call for the partnership between Africa and Europe to be expanded and for the general outlook on Africa to be rethought for the better. “If we listen more to voices from Africa, then the walls of disinterest and prejudice will also fall. Then we recognize what really connects us and that is much more than we really believe.”
Missed the award ceremony? You can watch it here:
Ilwad Elman’s work in Somalia has its fair share of 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 asserting women’s rights and creating future prospects for Somalia’s youth. In 2010, at the age of 20, Ilwad Elman founded Sister Somalia, the country’s first care centre for victims of sexual violence – there are now nine such centers. Elman was instrumental in passing the first law in Somalia to criminalize sexual offenses. Another focus of Ilwad Elman’s work is the reintegration of child soldiers: Under Ilwad’s leadership, the Elman Peace Centre’s Drop the Gun, Pick up the Pen initiative in Mogadishu has enabled thousands of former child soldiers to reintegrate into civilian life.
Ilwad Elman describes the award of 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 the age of 30. To be recognized as one of them through this means fills me with great pride,” she stated in an interview with host Sabrina N’Diaye. Elman sees Somalia’s youth as key to success on the road to sustainable peace in her country, whose potential has yet to be fully tapped into. “We need to engage youth more, teach them critical thinking skills and offer vocational skills,” she says. Young people would need to be empowered to take on leadership roles and ideally, this would need to be institutionalized.” To reach the youth, Ilwad Elman has a particular presence on social media – more than 70,000 people follow her on Twitter, and nearly 150,000 on Instagram. She is also concerned with setting the media image of Somalia straight: “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.” According to the young award winner, such positive developments should also be made more widely known in Europe.
You can find the laudatory speech of the jury president of the German Africa Award 2020, Claus Stäcker, in the download section.
Click here for the speech by Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.