The Star (Nairobi)

23 April 2011

Kenya: Iron Spirit Behind Yusuf's Soft Smile

Yusuf Hassan Abdi, who was this week nominated as the PNU candidate for the Kamukunji by-election, describes himself as a global Kenyan citizen due to the complexity of his life as a career journalist traversing many countries.

Yusuf is married to an English lady Susannah, who is a Christian, a factor that many of his Muslim opponents have tried to invoke in campaigns against him. "The Quran allows us to marry from the four faiths quoted including Christians and Jews. I know my rivals will want to dig into this but it isn't a crime," he says.

Born in Garissa, Yusuf went to Taranganya High School in Kuria for his 'O' levels then proceeded to Kisii High School for his 'A' levels. However his stay in Kisii High school was short-lived after he was expelled for leading a strike in 1972 during the tenure of Mark Bosire as headmaster. Bosire later became Bonchari MP.

After his expulsion, Yusuf came to Nairobi where he worked as a news reader with the then Voice of Kenya now KBC and then joined the BBC World Service in Bush House London.

Since 2007, he has been working as the East African Regional Communications Manager for the UNHCR, based in Nairobi. He resigned on April 1 to start campaign for the Kamukunji seat on request by the Somali business community in Eastleigh to stand. From 2006 to September 2007, Yusuf worked as the Director of the UN's humanitarian news agency IRIN in Nairobi. From 2002 to 2006, Yusuf was the Senior Policy Adviser at the UN Headquarters in New York, advising the Secretary General on refugees' issues.

He was initially responsible for South West Asia and the Middle East, with a special focus on Iraq and Afghanistan, and later the Horn of Africa (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan) and the Great Lakes region (Burundi and the DRC).

From 2001 to 2002, he was the lead UN spokesperson in Kabul, Afghanistan, tasked with articulating the growing humanitarian crisis and the efforts of the UN agencies.

He was the UN refugee agency's head of external and media relations in South West and Central Asia in Islamabad, covering Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan from 1999 -2001.

Yusuf has also worked for UNHCR in Southern Africa, including Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, and in East Timor. Prior to joining UNHCR, Yusuf was a broadcaster and journalist covering Africa and the Middle East.

For more than a decade, as the BBC World Service's broadcaster and editor, and later the editor of the monthly African magazine Africa Events, he reported on all major developments in Africa.

He covered the crisis in Somalia, the civil wars in Angola, Burundi, DRC, Congo, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.

In 1990 he led the technical team responsible for the transformation of the state-operated Namibian National Radio and Television from an Apartheid mouth-piece into a national public broadcaster.

He served as the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation's first director of operations and helped draft both the newly independent nation's information policy paper and the new communications bill.

In 2007, he joined politics vying for the Kamkunji seat on an ODM ticket. His supporters say that he won the nomination but the ODM top brass reversed the choice in favour of his rival Johnny at the request of Muslim leaders.

He decamped to Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka's ODM Kenya and came third in the December 27 2007 election with 7,663 votes. Kamukunji was one of two constituency elections cancelled by the ECK in 2007 after there were gross irregularities. Yusuf's supporters claim that he would have been the rightful winner if ballot boxes had not been stolen.

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