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Jamila Gordon: The CIO who escaped the Somali Civil War

Byron Connolly | March 3, 2017
“There’s literally nothing that can happen in business that can even compare to the challenges I faced early in my life."

Somalian born senior tech executive Jamila Gordon, owes her life to her quick-thinking father. Just before the Somali Civil War broke out in 1991, he had the foresight to move the family out of Mogadishu before they would have faced certain death at the hands of armed rebel forces looking to overthrow the Barre regime.

“The Somali Civil War had not quite started but my father was a smart person and realised that if he didn’t get us all out, we would all be killed, and he was absolutely right. Every person who didn’t get out of [Mogadishu] at the right time was killed – relatives, friends, neighbours, people I knew because they didn’t react early like my father did,” Gordon tells CIO Australia.

Prior to the outbreak of war, Gordon spent her days working in her father’s shop counting how much money he had earned and spent each day. She took responsibility for the family very early in her life, even as six-year-old living in the Somali hinterland with no running water or electricity.

Before the family moved to the coastal city of Mogadishu due to drought, Gordon, the eldest daughter, was responsible for running the household and looking after her brothers and sisters.

“My mother had 16 children, two died young and I was the second oldest. I was expected at a very young age to help my mother,” she says.

Her family was poor but she remembers fondly a childhood full of kindness and happiness.

“I also remember it being a beautiful place – it’s sad to see people from the Western World looking out now thinking it’s all doom and gloom. But if there are no wars and you don’t have anything threatening you … I remember it being good.”

Despite escaping imminent war, Gordon’s resilience would be tested as her family became scattered around the world as refugees. At 18 years of age, she ended up in neighbouring Kenya with distant relatives she had never met before. Gordon’s father was orphaned when his mother, given to her grandfather as a gift, gave birth to him when she was 13 years old and ran away.

“She ended up on the border to Kenya; she remarried and had a couple of kids. One of her sons was in Mombasa [Kenya] – my father’s step brother who I had never met and through this process, we found him,” says Gordon.

Gordon spent just under a year in Kenya during a period she describes as the hardest time in her life.

“I was in limbo, I had made a lot of good friends, the Somali relatives really didn’t want me there because they didn’t have enough money or means to take care of the young woman who didn’t have anywhere to go back to. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, I was moved between different houses with relatives and friends, mainly Kenyan friends,” she says.

 

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