Ali Iman Sharmarke is the recipient of the Tara Singh Hayer Award, which recognizes Canadians for courage in journalism.
Ali Sharmarke returned to his homeland of Somalia in 1999 to help rebuild the media in the war-shattered country. Along with Mohamed Elmi and Ahmed Abdisalam Adan, he was one of three founding members of one of Africa’s great media success stories, HornAfrik.
He was killed on August 11, 2007, when his car drove over a remote-controlled landmine as he was returning from the funeral of another journalist, Mahad Ahmed Elmi. The killing of late Ali Iman Sharmakeh was a black day for Somali journalism. Hornafrik Media has gradually ceased operating after his death. Somali journalism won’t be the same without him
Sharmarke was raised in Somalia. After the start of the civil war in the early 1990s, he immigrated to Canada and built a new life there. He became a Canadian citizen, holding dual citizenship, while living in Ottawa, completed a Masters in Public Administration at Carleton University and got a job in the federal Finance Department in Ottawa. But he responded to the need he saw in Somalia to have a radio station that would provide the people of Somalia with access to information and the ability to tell their stories.
In Canada, he also studied political science and economics going on to earn a PhD from the same institution. Sharmarke was married to Luul Mohamed, with whom he had three children, Liban, Hanad, and Nora.
In early 1999, Sharmarke and fellow Somali emigrants to Canada Ahmed Abdisalam Adan and Mohamed Elmi returned to Mogadishu following a period of relative calm in order to finalize market research that they had conducted on the feasibility and technological equipment necessary to start a new media company in the city.Concluding that the project was workable, the independent HornAfrik broadcast firm was subsequently officially launched on 12 December 1999.
Although Ali Sharmarke did not learn the profession of journalism on the job, he earned the respect of all who worked with him for his vision of what a radio station could achieve. Under his watch HornAfrik became known for its fair and objective coverage.
Under Sharmarke’s direction, HornAfrik earned a reputation for its objective news coverage. It ran a number of popular call-in programs, which allowed residents of Mogadishu and the surrounding area to share their views on various issues of local interest, including topics related to culture, health, religion, peace, education and economy. In the past, the network also used to air interviews with faction leaders who at the time controlled parts of the city.
Due to its transmissions of international segments, the network earned criticism from religious fundamentalists such as Al-Shabaab group. In 2007, the former Transitional Federal Government (TFG) also shut down HornAfrik’s radio and television stations on charges that it was abetting terrorist groups by airing programs which allegedly supported extremist elements. Sharmarke rejected the allegations, characterizing them as a denial of press freedom. Additionally, HornAfrik engaged in some philanthropic work.
In the documentary film, “A World of Difference” Sharmarke is quoted “We see the media as a means to do a social change, and probably I can say now Horn Afrik is one of the best instruments for social change in Somalia,” Sharmarke says. It is a legacy that he will be long remembered for.
On 11 August 2007, Sharmarke’s co-worker at HornAfrik’s Capital Voice private radio station, Mahad Ahmed Elmi, who ran a popular daily morning call-in show on crime and security operations, was gunned down by unknown assailants as he entered his office in the early morning. On his way back from his friend’s funeral service later the same day, Sharmarke’s vehicle was struck by a remotely controlled landmine. He was killed in the explosion, with fellow passenger and journalist Sahal Abdulle lightly wounded on the head and face.
Sharmake Peace Foundation
In August 2009, Sharmarke’s widow Luul and their son Liban, an Ottawa-based businessman, established the Sharmarke Peace Foundation in his honor. The organization provides training and equipment to expatriate Somalian journalists so that they may return to their home country and continue their work. It also offers various self-sustaining projects and scholarship opportunities to young journalists in Somalia, with the aim of strengthening local media standards. SPF has its headquarters in Ottawa, and Luul Sharmarke serves as its executive director.
In 2002, Sharmarke and the other co-founders of HornAfrik were honored as the winners of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE’s) international Press Award. HornAfrik was presented the award for its work in the face of threats and intimidation at a time when there was no effective legal recourse or protection for the local press.
In 2007, Sharmarke was also posthumously awarded the Tara Singh Hayer Award by the CJFE for his courage in the field of journalism. His son Liban accepted the prize on his behalf.
In this sorrowful time, members of Somali association of journalists extend their heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family of Late Ali Iman Sharmake. May Allah forgive him his sins, accept his good deeds, elevate his status and spare him any punishment in the grave or in the hereafter. May Allah also grant his family members patience and strength to bear the loss of their beloved. Amen!
We, the former journalits, reporters and technicians of Hornafrik radio and Television and SAJ-members, will never forget Ali Iman Sharmake’s genorosity and graciousness. May Allaah grant him a heavenly rest. It is true that Ali Iman Sharmake is out of sight, but he will never out of our minds.