Monday, April 20, 2009

Carrying on his father's dream Foundation created by son of Ali Sharmarke helps educate journalists in war-torn Somalia By Louise Umutoni,

Ali Iman Sharmarke returned to Somalia in 1999 to found Radio Horn-Afrik.

Ali Iman Sharmarke returned to Somalia in 1999 to found Radio Horn-Afrik.
Photograph by: Chris Mikula, The Ottawa Citizen, The Ottawa Citizen

It's been nearly two years since Ali Iman Sharmarke's life was brought to a halt by a roadside bomb in Somalia, but his legacy lives on.

The Canadian and Somali citizen was on a mission to rebuild the media in his native country -- a cause he was passionate about -- when he was killed in August 2007.

"Me and my father were very close, he was more like my best friend rather than a father; he taught me everything I know," said his son, Liban Sharmarke, a businessman in Ottawa.

"I talked to him the night before he died. I remember everyone telling him it was too dangerous in Somalia, but he just smiled and said he needed to do what was right for his people," Sharmarke said.

Ali Iman Sharmarke returned to Somalia in 1999 with Mohamed Elmi and Ahmed Abdisalam Adan, to found Radio Horn-Afrik, an independent media organization, something almost unheard of in the anarchy of Somalia.

He left a widow, Luul Mohamed, and three children who had moved to Kenya to be close to him just three months before he was killed.

Together with his mother, Liban launched the Sharmarke Peace Foundation in Nairobi in August, with the aim of improving the media in Somalia by educating upcoming journalists.

"My mother came up with the idea to start this foundation because she felt she had to finish the work he had started. I, on the other hand, was never interested in journalism but, after my father died, I became more interested in it," Sharmarke explained.

The foundation had a Canadian launch and fundraiser Saturday night in Ottawa, by hosting a dialogue, involving Sharmarke, Allan Thompson of Carleton University, and Adrian Harewood, host of CBC's All in a Day, on the importance of a free press. Money was raised during the evening to fund the first three scholarships for journalism students from Modadishu, Somalia.

"My father originally studied political science and went on to do a PhD in that at Carleton University, but he later went into journalism because he decided that the best way to better his country was to provide a voice for the silenced," Sharmarke said.

"This is what we want to continue to do by providing scholarships for Somali journalism students," he said.

As a Canadian citizen and former Ottawa resident, Ali Iman Sharmarke was awarded the 2007 Tara Singh Hayer Award, which recognizes Canadians for courage in journalism.

"With a good number of journalists in Mogadishu, I'm sure that in no time we shall have other people like my father willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the people," said Sharmarke.

"I plan to go to journalism school to better understand my father's plight and maybe continue the work that father started," he said.

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