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The big interview: The man of big moments

Some men live large lives; Prof. Abdurahman Adan Ibrahim was a formidable opponent as a basketball player, then diligent teacher as a lecturer, a business maverick and a towering figure in Somali politics. The former Deputy Prime Minister spoke to The Somalia Investor Magazine 

Professor Abdurahman Adan Ibrahim is a gust of energy. A bristling, positively active, relaxingly jovial and uncharacteristically humble man. For a wealthy man with roll of achievements that would have otherwise gotten into the head of any other man in his position, he is a pleasant surprise as a man but his trailblazing forays into basketball, business, politics and the lecture halls are something else altogether.

When we meet him, he is at the entrance of Aden Adde International Airport seeing off a few friends and family perhaps. It is mid-morning, about 11.00 am and he is wearing a cream-white kaunda suit, and brown open shoes. He stands out this way, but his demeanour, warm and teeth out in a perpetual smile, and his restlessness, shepherding everyone in his team, directing them and dragging or pulling a bag here and there is most telling of the man. Everyone in his team appears to be younger than him, yet when they move, Prof. Adan Ibrahim is always three or five steps ahead. His energy is undeniable.

“Yes we can talk,” he says when we reach out to him at the check in counter to ask for a quick interview.  “Yes we can talk, just give me a minute to sort a few things out.”

We wait at the cafeteria while he talks to a never ending stream of people while at the same time assisting the team he brought in with their check-in process. After about half an hour, he is done and tells us to walk with him; “There must be a room or quiet space inside here that we can use somehow.”

After a bit of a walk and a few stops during which he greets a bunch of people on the way, stops to chat with another pair and waves at three more, we get to an empty conference room. He sits down at the end of a table, sets his phone on silent mode and looks up with the business-like air of a man who knows how to get his things done and says; “So, shall we do this?”

In 1971, Prof. Abdurahman Adan Ibrahim or ‘IBBI’ as he prefers to be called, was the only student from his school in Wajid District who graduated (passed in his final examinations) out of a group of students who sat for the same exam. This first win and the fact that it set him apart from the other students set in motion a chain of several wins and firsts that were soon to follow. As a professional basketball player, ‘IBBI’ changed his jersey from that of a player to that of a referee in 1974 when he was made one of the first international referees in East and Central Africa for basketball, a position and duty he carried out judiciously and competently for the next nine years until 1983.

“More stability and better security have ushered in a period where business can be conducted with minimal disruptions. Most companies are profitable and business is doing well.”

Professor Abdurahman Adan Ibrahim-former Deputy Prime Minister

He explains why basketball was a part of his life and what he got from the experience; “Basketball has been part of the lives of Somali youth for years. I am not an exception. I was good at it and I was good at the technical and political aspect of the game too. That’s why after serving as a referee for nine years, I became the Vice President of African Basketball Federation East and Central Africa (Zone 5).”  He says being part of a team in competitive sport like basketball teaches one life lessons that they can apply in the boardroom, in politics and out in the trenches when business is thick.

Concurrent to his basketball activities, in 1979, Prof. Adan Ibrahim got into lecture halls, teaching leadership and educational development. This is a vocation that he practices to this day, working mostly with Somalia International University.

However, Prof. Abdurahman Adan Ibrahim is famously known for his involvement in the politics of Somalia. He is one of the most experienced Members of Parliament. He is well known in parliament for his practical and realistic approach to national issues as well as his rousing speeches on what the people and the nation need. To a great extent, he is considered a people’s advocate.

A people’s advocate he is should be, for ‘IBBI’ has spent over 17 years as a Member of Parliament and 11 years as a minister, rising to the post of Deputy Prime Minister. His journey into active politics begun in 2000 when he was elected as a Member of Parliament and even his entry into national politics was a bit un orthodox. Whereas other representatives were selected by clan representatives, Prof. Abdurahman Adan Ibrahim was one of the only six who got their mandate to represent the people directly from the people after being elected by the public. This happened after the Somalia Reconciliation Conference that was held in Djibouti.

Immediately thereafter, in 2001, he became the Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee of the Somali Parliament. Soon after this, he was appointed the Minister of Information. Perhaps it is his easy way with people, or the fact that he is an astute political operator or maybe it is the fact that country was in a state where alliances constantly shifted and usefulness depended not only on how good one was, but how relevant they were to the people and the system. In the eight years that came after 2000, he held several positions in government, including being the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Reserve, being a Parliamentary State Minister and finally, in 2009, he became the first Deputy Prime Minister.

One would think that after getting to that height, he would slow down; most people would have certainly done so, but not ‘IBBI’. From 2011, he has worked variously as an MP, a member of the Foreign Relations and International Cooperation Committee and as of January 2017, he has served as a member of the Pacific and European Parliament representative in Somalia.

As a businessman, he is a senior member of the Board of Directors at African Express Airways where he works as the representative of the mother airline in Somalia. However, his forays into business begun years earlier when he was exporting fish, fruits and livestock from Somalia.

In 2002, he joined African Express Airways, a company with a fleet of 6 aircrafts that fly to Comoros, Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, and Djibouti among other destinations. The planes owned by the company, with flight seat capacities of 148, 100, 50 and 30 are considered one of the leading carriers in the region, second to Kenya Airways. And as expected, they also do cargo transport.

Since he got into the aviation industry, Prof. Abdurahman Adan Ibrahim says that the industry has seen tremendous growth and he believes that it will keep getting better with time.

“The aviation industry in the country is first of all well developed. There was a time, in the early 2000’s when we were the only airline company that was plying the Somalia airspace on commercial/ civilian travels. Back then, we flew to the Middle East and East Africa too.”

But things have changed now; more stability and better security have ushered in a period where business can be conducted with minimal disruptions. He says that the company is profitable and that business is doing well. 

As the call for travellers sound in a distance, he offers to show us one of the African Express Airways planes that happened to be leaving for Nairobi, and which The Somali Investor Magazine team was travelling with. It is the 148 carrier, raving up on the tarmac. ‘IBBI’ walks, brisk and jovial as always, speaks to the pilot for a few minutes then heads to the passenger area where he chats for a minute or two with a hostess. Soon, people begin boarding and he has to leave.

Walking out, he says two things have favoured African Express Airways; one is that the company was there for Somalia and for the people of Somalia during the tough days after the collapse of the national carrier and two, is the fact that since the establishment of the Federal Government of Somalia and the setting up of the Civil Aviation Authority, safety has improved and regulation enhanced.

‘IBBI’ lives for big moments, he creates them and some big moments call out to him; he has answered to the best of his ability so far.

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