Abdi Jeylani Malaq

This is heartbreaking and painful.

Abdi Muridi Dhere

MalaqDhere was talking about the death of his friend and colleague Abdi Jeylani Malaq. Malaq was well-known on Mogadishu TV and radio. He’d been in the business since 1989 and enjoyed a large, loyal and enthusiastic following. He’d finished work and was on his way home when he was ambushed by two men and shot to death. It’s uncertain who murdered Malaq, but he had recently been threatened by the al-Qaeda linked militant group al-Shabaab. He’d taken the threat seriously enough to leave town for several days and had only recently returned to the city. With his death, Malaq became the seventh Somali media professional murdered in an eight month period. Commenting on his death, Reporters Without Borders noted, “This tragedy is a cruel reminder that nothing stops free expression’s enemies in Africa’s deadliest country for the media. Anyone who dares to speak out against Al-Shabaab’s crimes in Somalia is signing their own death warrant.”

Violent death is nothing unusual in Somalia. The country hasn’t had a functioning national government since 1991 and its descent into chaos has been complete.  According to a World Bank report, 68% of funds dedicated for economic development and reconstruction are unaccounted for. Humanitarian aid groups report that owing to a system of government “gatekeepers,” they can’t be certain that intended recipients ever receive assistance or, for that matter, if the intended recipients always exist. That, of course, only tells the economic story. For the Somali people murder, kidnapping, banditry, piracy and indiscriminate shelling of communities is an everyday fact of life. Rape is described by international agencies as “endemic.” As a routine practice, al-Shabaab kidnaps girls and offers them in forced marriages or as rewards for their young fighters. And those fighters can be very young indeed. Boys as young as 11 are taken from their homes and schools and put on the front line of al-Shabaab attacks.  Ridiculing this practice is most likely what led to Malaq’s death. On a recent broadcast he assumed the persona of an al-Shabaab commander calling from a safe seaside resort and quipped, “Hey young boys, you can’t move back from the enemy shelling … instead just stay there and fight.” Gallows humor perhaps, but what would expect from Somalia’s most popular comedian.

That’s right, Malaq wasn’t a hard hitting investigative reporter, he was a comedian. That’s a jarring concept. Words like Somalia and comedian seem unlikely partners in a sentence. But Malaq had a gift and was able to bring light into an otherwise dark world. He was able to help people not escape from their misery but to briefly rise above it. In that moment he helped forge resilience among the Somali people. Laughter strengthened their bond of community and renewed their ability to persevere. Commenting on their loss, Mohamed Deq Abdi said, “He brought smiles to our faces when all…was dark and gloomy. He was a genius comedian.”

No matter the craziness of your own situation, it isn’t as bad as Somalia on a good day. Finding the humor in it will not only help you cope, but will make you actually feel better as well. It will make you stronger and more resilient. What’s more, sharing a laugh can lift the spirits of the entire group. Let Malaq be your example. Remember, if the people of Mogadishu can laugh in the midst of so much misery, you can learn to laugh too.              —Ebert

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