Dear friends and colleagues, Assalaam Aleykum wa Rahmat Allah
Let me first thank the organizers of this important event who invited me to share with you few remarks. Brother Ali Iman Sharmarke was a personal friend and colleague committed to the struggle for peace in Somalia. I perfectly remember numerous conferences and meetings that we have participated to promote peace. Unfortunately, I also remember the tragic month of August, 2007 when the relatives and friends of Ali Iman Sharmarke congregated in the Parliament hill to express their respect for the late Ali Sharmarke and his colleagues killed in Somalia.
I also, remember when Brother Ali Iman Sharmarke and his friend Ahmed Abdisalam came to Mogadishu in 1999 when the Somali civil society institutions were emerging and changing the power structure and political culture in Mogadishu. I was fortunate to be able to go back to Somalia in 1993 and to participate in the establishment of the first civil society network in Mogadishu in
1994. Since then, schools started to appear after its total destruction since 1991 with the local initiatives and Mogadishu University opened its doors in 1997. Achievements of the civil society in the stateless Somalia were commendable, but were lacking one specific success factor during that period. That was an effective media, a media of peace that gives a voice for the vulnerable and voiceless communities and peace promoters. That was the important task which Horn Afrik Media was taking the lead. This was the added value that founders of Horn Afrik Media that include Ali Iman Sharmarke were making difference in the war-torn Mogadishu. With Horn Afrik, Somali civil society acquired voice and propagated peace and human values and dignity among clan-divided communities. During this early stage, indeed, it was the only courageous voice to confront warlords of Mogadishu with criticism. 1
Today is not a sorrow remembrance of the beloved and respected brother Ali Iman Sharmarke who was killed while working for peace and freedom of expression in Somalia, but to honour him by renewing our commitment to the ideals he died for – peace, freedom and development. The question is what is the best way to honour brother Ali? According to the Islamic tradition, Prophet Mohammad said: "When a man dies, his good deeds come to an end except three: ongoing charity, beneficial knowledge and righteous offspring who will pray for him.” Indeed, the legacy that he left behind will benefit him and also Sharmarke Foundation will make him sustain his rewards forever. I congratulate those who formed this Foundation and in particular his widow Lull Farah (Arabeto) and children Nora and Hanad.
Let me now talk about the subject I was invited to speak about and that is Mogadishu University and its program for training journalists in Somalia. However, before, I go into that, let me give you some short background. With the collapse of the Somali state, Somali people are commended for their talented entrepreneurship, endurance and inventiveness. As evidence, Somali non-state actors comprising of civil society organizations and business community has shown perseverance and resilience to the challenges of the civil war. In competing with the dark and gloomy images painted on Mogadishu as the city of warlords, marauding and unbridled militias, ever enlarging bright spots and islands of peace and development were emerging in the early years of 1990s. These bright spots were created primarily by the networks of the civil society organizations, free media and business community. These non-state actors were challenging the dominance of warlord discourses and in the meantime created new environment for peace and development. The most visible among all non- state actors is the education sector almost run by civil society organizations.
The idea of opening higher education institutions was taking momentum in the late 1990s and many universities were opened all over Somali regions. These universities were providing baccalaureate degrees in education, economics, business, Islamic studies, engineering, arts and healthy sciences and so on. However, training journalists were not their priorities. Paradoxically, when free media was taking upsurge momentum and website journalism was taking unprecedented attention, professional journalism and training was lacking behind. 2
Mogadishu University, being the biggest university, had undertaken the initiative to take the lead in establishing faculty of Political Science and Journalism by 2004. The university has 7 undergraduate faculties and post-graduate program and a number of research and community centers. More than 7 thousand students enrolled during the last 12 years in which women made up about 25%. In the academic year 2008/2009 alone, 1340 students were admitted to the university and 27% were women. It is a good progress comparing with 9% of the initial year of 1997. Currently, there are about 200 students enrolled in the faculty of Political Science and Journalism in which 50% are journalists. The first 20 students graduated from the faculty in 2007/2008.
The challenge of the faculty was and remains the wrong perception among young generations that journalism and political science do need university degrees. The role model of politics was uneducated villainous warlords and journalism was equated with the work of the uneducated amateurs. A person must have the will, energy, courage and quality of oratory to be successful journalist and politician. Though these qualities are essential, nevertheless, it is not enough. The difficult journey for changing these wrong perceptions through training for professional journalism started in 2004.
What is needed to promote and support? Annual scholarship for one student is $1000 per/year (full scholarship) and $500 (tuition fees). This means $4000/2000 in four year you can sponsor one student. Plus, for your information, there are special scholarship program to promote women’s university education. This program is called “Young Women Leadership Scholarship Program”. This program offers a kind of “affirmative action” to promote female education. All scholarships are given only on the academic merits. With your donations to the Sharmarke Foundation, you can specify your donations to go directly to the Women’s Scholarship Program.
In conclusion, let us read al-Fatiha to the soul of our brother Ali Iman Sharmarke and make du’a for him. O Allah! Forgive him and grant Him Your Mercy and enter him into paradise. 3
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