Nura Ali, a pioneering female police officer setting an example for others
Law enforcement was not a feasible career option for most Somali women when Nura Jama Ali was growing up in the 1970s.
But she chose to defy social convention in her youth and joined the Somali Police Force (SPF) in 1982, and 35 years later she has risen to the rank of inspector in the SPF.
“I was driven by the urge to join the police force because of my desire to serve the people,” said Ms. Ali, who is attached to the SPF’s VIP unit, which is mainly responsible for handling protocol matters. “I love police work and I could not survive where there is no police force.”
She has narrowly escaped death in some of the terrorist attacks that have targeted parts of Mogadishu in recent times. The latest incident was the truck bombing in the Somali capital that killed more than 500 people on 14 October this year – the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of the country. Her close calls also include surviving an explosion at the same police training academy where 17 of her colleagues were killed by a suicide bomber on 14 December.
But the brushes with death have not discouraged Ms. Ali from remaining in the ranks of the SPF, which she left after civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991 and then rejoined in 2002.
“I have narrowly survived numerous bomb explosions,” says the 52-year-old police inspector and mother of two daughters. “But as long as I am serving my people and my flag, I am not bothered about my safety. I trust Allah, and I don’t have any fear.”
While some of her compatriots shun police work and the many occupational risks associated with it, Ms. Ali wears the SPF badge with pride and sees a bright future for the security force.
“I love the pace at which the police institution is developing. Many people now appreciate what the police are doing,” she says, adding that more training and resources are still needed to enable the SPF to assume full policing responsibility across the country.
Somalia’s centralized police command structure is being reorganized under a new policing model that was adopted in 2016, with the support of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The new model will distribute 32,000 officers among federal and state-level police forces, with the latter reporting to their respective state governments instead of a central headquarters in Mogadishu.
UNSOM and AMISOM are also supporting training programmes for thousands of Somali police officers throughout much of the country in areas like mine action operations and promoting respect for human rights.
With growing opportunities in the SPF, and at a time of high unemployment among Somalia’s large youth population, she hopes to see more young Somalis – men and especially women – follow her example and take up law enforcement as a career in the coming years.
“The police needs young and energetic people,” she notes. “We need to improve the quality of the police force in the country by recruiting professionals, preferably young university graduates.”