NAIROBI — Representatives of Somali media gathered in a Nairobi suburb on Saturday to honor the late Somali journalist Ali Shamarke, assassinated by al-Shabab militants five years ago. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) both identify Somalia as the most dangerous place in Africa to be a journalist. Six journalists have been killed in Somalia this year alone.
Saturday in Eastleigh, a Somali neighborhood in the eastern suburbs of Nairobi, journalists gathered to honor a lost colleague.
Five years ago, Ali Shamarke, the founder of Horn Afrik Media, was assassinated by al-Shabab militants. His car was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) as he drove from the funeral of Mahad Ahmed Elmi, a fellow journalist and producer for Horn Afrik Radio. Elmi had been shot in the head earlier that day.
Shamarke’s widow, Anab Ali, remembers the night before her husband died. He was uneasy because he had received threats from both the Somali Transitional Government (TFG) and al-Shabab.
"He was having a nightmare, he kept having the same nightmare, he couldn’t sleep," she said.
Horn Afrik Media, Somalia’s first independent broadcaster, was once a respected news source.
Iman Burran, a journalist present at Saturday’s event, remembers the service. "Horn Afrik was actually independent, free, a balanced report. It was actually the only neutral media," he said.
After the assassinations in 2007, Horn Afrik faced continued attacks by al-Shabab, the transitional government (TFG) and clan militias. Their studios were ransacked and the station is now defunct.
Since the organized government collapsed in 1991, journalists have been censored, threatened and attacked by all sides in Somalia’s conflict.
Tom Rhodes, the Committee to Protect Journalists' East Africa consultant, said, "In many ways the Somali journalists are stuck between a rock and a hard place with individuals in the government that are opposed to their reporting and then of course al-Shabab which is opposed to their existence."
Just over one year has passed since al-Shabab fled Mogadishu, facing military pressure from African Union forces.
Despite signs that the conflict is abating, analysts like Tom Rhodes do not believe the situation has improved for the Somali press.
"I feel that the conditions are still very dangerous for journalists; even in Mogadishu, guerrilla tactics are still used by al-Shabab and there may be others including businessmen, who may target them. The idea that the al-Shabab has left does not mean that it is safe for press," he said.
Six journalists have been murdered this year. Five were under the age of 30. Rhodes says most veteran journalists, the generation of Ali Shamarke, have fled the country.
"They’re young, they’re inexperienced, furthermore they're trying to make a name for themselves so they're willing to take risks that older journalists would not be willing to do, so of course they get targeted far more easily.," he said.
With Somalia’s political transition set to end later this month, Somali journalists hope the new government will break from past administrations and promote a free press.