Man who faced Al-shabaab elected unopposed as senator in Kenya
GARISSA, Kenya - About eight years ago, Abdul Haji, then 38, was featured not only in Kenya but across the globe for what many considered heroic acts, following a photo of him rescuing innocent women and men at Westgate Mall, where Al-shabaab had attacked.
Armed with his rifle, Haji, whose father Yusuf Haji was then senator of Garissa, was pictured rescuing dozens of people, but it's the footage of him holding children and women which put him on the global map, even making President Uhuru Kenyatta to give him Heads of State Commendation.
While Haji has been taking a low profile since then, overshadowed by his late prominent father, Yusuf Haji, who died in February, and his elder brother Noordin Haji, who is the Director of Public Prosecutions in the republic of Kenya, Abdul will now feature prominently in Kenya's politics.
Yesterday, Abdul was cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission [IEBC] as Garissa's second senator, after being elected unopposed, following the goodwill from various political parties and consensus among clan elders.
Nobody had expressed interests for the May 18 by-election, automatically making IEBC to clear him as the second senator of Garissa. He will be sworn-in in due course by the Speaker of the Senate Kenneth Lusaka.
His father, Senator Haji, who was heading the Building Bridges Initiative [BBI], which united Uhuru and his political nemesis Raila Odinga, died after months of indisposition. He first started as a provincial administrator before joining politics in 1997.
"Before he became unconscious, he wanted us to call the Senate Speaker so that he resigns because he said it was haraam (illicit) to draw salary while he was unable to work for people of Garissa,” Abdul told the constituents in a recent interview.
Mzee Haji also wanted his salary for the last six months given to vulnerable children. They promised to fulfil the wish by distributing the money to needy children of the six sub-counties of Garissa.
Ijara Member of Parliament Sophia Abdinoor recently confirmed there would be a grassroots meeting to have Abdul, whose official name is Abdikadir Mohamed, to be endorsed by his larger Samawathal clan. The elders and political class cleared him.
“You are part and parcel of the Garissa community and we will support you for any political ambitions,” said Garissa Governor Ali Korane during a prayer meeting in Masalani, which was also attended by Aden Duale, among other top politicians from North Eastern region.
The 2013 Al-shabaab attack at Westgate Mall in the rainy afternoon left dozens of people dead but the heroics of Abdul Haji have been featured even in the international media. He once told The Guardian that he was kept "going" without thinking of possibility of being shot.
"I thought she was so brave," he said. "It just motivated us to go on and help more people."
Was he ever scared? "That thought never crossed my mind – thinking that I was going to die that day. I think because of the adrenaline, I just kept going."
"I still don't see myself as a hero," he says quietly. "I have even looked up the word hero. People who have been called heroes – I don't think I have done anything close to what they've done."
Al-shabaab has been a menace especially in Northern Eastern region and his election as senator could give the fight a new dimension. He will serve the remainder of the term before the country goes for an election in August 2022.