President of France Confers Knighthood upon Edna Adan Ismail
French President Nicolas Sarkozy signed a document in February honoring Edna Adan with the Legion of Honor. The award was first created by Napoleon. Normally, this honor – which amounts to a Knighthood and is the highest honor that France can bestow – is presented only to French nationals. The presentation was made in Hargeisa, Somaliland on April 17, 2010 by the French Ambassador.
The president’s letter, can be read here (in French). Following are the speeches on this occasion by Ambassador Dominique Decherf and by Edna Adan.
Speech Presenting the French Legion of Honor
As French Ambassador to Djibouti,Ambassador Dominique Decherf I was given the responsibility for the first time to develop a bilateral relationship of cooperation with the Somaliland people. I was privileged to personally pay a visit for the first time in March last year. Diplomats from the embassy have been visiting on a regular basis for the last two years, the first secretary, the cultural and cooperation councilor, the education and linguistic ataché, who are with me today, the economic advisor, businessmen. We have tried to make people in France more aware of this country and its achievements during the last 20 years.
Peace and stability are a treasure Somalilanders cherish after all the suffering endured during the cruel civil war across Somalia. We sincerely admire your dedication to peace and stability as well as to reconstruction and development for the good of the people.
As minister of foreign affairs from 2003 to 2006, it was your mission, Edna, to make this known and recognized on the world level, to begin with the regional and African scene. I know from your successor, Mr. Abdillahi Mohamed Dualeh, whom I meet regularly, what it implies. Lobbying, going everywhere repeating the legal, political, economic, democratic arguments.
But the best of arguments is example. You may be converted to an idea by the ways of reason. You are more surely convinced by feelings from the heart. Edna, after you left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you have not done less for the world knowledge of Somaliland and international politics. With your hospital and your militancy for women and health, your fame goes across the world, to Pretoria where you received the Chancellor’s medal last December, of course to your partners in the United States and United Kingdom and through the Commonwealth.
And now to France: Your country was formerly known as British Somaliland. For decades, there was on your borders a French Somaliland. Linked through the experiences of the Second World War. Until now we recognized the Somali battalion, veterans from the British and French Somaliland who fought together, in a single unit, against the fascists in the forties. Many enjoy their retirement in the highlands of present Somaliland.
There is no surprise that you could live and serve alternately in what has become the Republic of Djibouti where you represented the World Health Organization between 1991 and 1997. You are a Commandeur de l’Ordre National du 27 Juin, the most important award in Djibout. The word has spread of this ceremony today and the Djiboutian Minister of Health and so many of your former colleagues, friends, in Djibouti have asked me to extend their best congratulations. They are all so proud of you. You are one of them. One of us : You speak French fluently and you have encouraged your compatriots in this English-speaking country to also keep French as a means of communication, for the sake of relations to Djibouti and to the French-speaking parts of Africa, but also, if I may boast a little, as a link to a literature of freedom, of human rights, of humanitarian consideration. The two are indissociable since the declaration of the rights of the French Revolution of 1789. Let me remind the audience briefly of some historical facts.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has awarded you the Legion of Honor on his personal quota. Every minister in the government of France can allocate a limited number of crosses. The Presidency itself has a small number. There are two national awards in France: the Legion of Honor and the Order of Merit. One is red, one is blue. The first one was created by Napoleon in 1802 a few years after the French Revolution. First to be awarded only to military personnel, then extended to distinguished civilians. It is exceptional that it benefits a foreigner. The second one, the order of merit, was only created by General de Gaulle, in 1963, to compensate, and to keep intact the prestige of the Legion of Honor.
Edna, you were awarded the Legion of Honor because of your outstanding example as a human person. I cannot say more than these two words: a Human Person with all the dignity attached to this quality. The French Republic at the top has recognized in you a person who has promoted the Human values for which the French Republic stands in the world. That is the true meaning of your recognition. Many times we are not living up to our expectations as defender of human rights but we recognize this as our duty, our special mission in the world, in international politics and everyday life. We recognize when somebody in the world raises these expectations. We recognized you.
Edna, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs is, as you know, presently Mr. Bernard Kouchner, best known across the world as the founder of the Doctors Without Borders. You, Edna, have taken part in many official capacities, at the time of your late husband, as prime minister of Somalia, as ambassador, as first president of Somaliland, yourself a U.N. representative, as a government minister. But you are still best known and will still be best remembered across the world as the Founder of Edna Adan Hospital, Hargeisa, bringing hope and healing to the women and children of Somaliland. As the first qualified Somali Nurse Midwife, the first female to be appointed to a senior post in the civil service of Somaliland, the first to speak against the negative practices affecting the health of women and children, the first woman minister, but this would be meaningless if your were to remain the only one or, worst, the last one.
We want to recognize future Ednas, maybe in the assembly today. I address the young nurses and laboratory technicians or pharmacists in training here: Are you ready to follow the path opened by Mama Edna Adan Ismael?
Are you ready to become the new Ednas?
It’s your turn now for the sake of yourself, your own dignity, the health of your sisters and daughters, we want you to give birth to healthy children who will be the strength of Somaliland tomorrow, mothers and babies defending peace and prosperity in this region the Horn of Africa.
The newly educated and dedicated generations you have trained, Edna, this is your success, your achievement, your invaluable contribution to your country’s history but also to Africa as a whole and to the world.
Edna, you could have chosen to receive this award in other occasions, in private, in France under golden roofs, in Djibouti at the embassy or in a hotel. You have chosen your home country, Hargeisa, your hospital, a ceremony of graduation of your students. This is a strong symbol.
Everybody should be made conscious that this other end of the world, best known as the land of chaos, we call it with you: Land of Hope.Dominique DecherfFrench Ambassador to Djibouti
Legion of Honor Acceptance Speech by Edna Adan Ismail
Your Excellency Ambassador Dominique Decherf, Honorable Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honorable Minister of Health and Labour, Honorable Minister of Agriculture, Honorable Members of Parliament, Dear Students, staff and parents, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am greatly honoured to be made a Knight in the French Legion of Honour by H.E. President Sarkozy.
This great distinction which France has bestowed upon me is even more precious since it was France that gave me that first opportunity to receive an education in Djibouti when there were no schools for girls in my country at the time. It was that early beginning which introduced me to French education, language and culture which I came to love and which also became the foundation that served me so well throughout the various stages of my life: first as a health professional, as the wife of a Prime Minister, as a senior UN Diplomat, as a Cabinet Minister in the government of Somaliland, and now as a Human Rights activist and the founder and director of the Edna Adan University Hospital.
Your Excellency, I am proud to accept this decoration on behalf of the people of Somaliland who over twenty years ago, on this very site where the hospital is built, suffered great injustices in order to defend their identity and their freedom.
Thankfully, their sacrifice was not in vain because since we opened this hospital eight years ago, we have delivered over 9600 babies, treated more than 9200 men, women and children in the wards, seen over 68,000 sick patients in the clinics, performed more than 2000 various surgical operations, graduated 106 general nurses, 42 post basic midwives, 21 community midwives, 56 lab technicians, and currently have a student population of 157.
Mr Ambassador, I accept this honour on behalf of the women and children of Africa who die of causes that they should have been protected from.
Your Excellencies, I accept his Honour on behalf of the staff of this hospital who number 85 and who work so hard, not only to look after the sick, but also to teach and supervise the students who are trained at my hospital. They all really make me so proud. I also wish to thank all the foreign volunteers who are from different countries of the world: Ethiopia, Norway, USA, UK, Kenya, Pakistan and who are all helping us in so many different ways and who shoulder so many responsibilities with us.
The person, who I need to at least recognise on this occasion, is Dr. Swenet Bedeg whose students are graduating today having completed their training as Diploma Level Laboratory Technicians.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am profoundly touched by all your support towards our people and am so grateful that I have been spared to live to see this historic day in Hargeisa, Somaliland.
Chere Ambassadeur, je vous remecie pour votre amitiée et apprecie beaucoup l’honeur que je vien de recevoir de la part de President Sakozy, President de la Republique de France.
Edna Adan Ismail