The sudden death of Ahmed Hassan Cawke on November 17, 2015 has led to an outpouring of grief among almost all sections of the Somali population across regions, territories and around the world. We received tributes from his colleagues, politicians, and media as well as from his friends in school days. All these is a mark of Cawke’s greatness that no other death in recent memory has generated such mourning among Somali-speaking not even the passing of former heads of State and governments.
We are all mortals bound to die one day but what matters in the end is what we leave behind for posterity. For Cawke, generations in the past and present remember him for his consummate natural gifts as a broadcaster, communicator, entertainer and artist on top of his endearing easygoing lovable personality, opening his heart to all and sundry, irrespective of their gender, age, clan and region. He often rose above petty inter-clan and inter-regional prejudices of one kind or another that dog Somalis in modern era, (not least among some of his colleagues at the BBC and VOA), a fall-out from the cataclysmic collapse of the Somali State and the wrongs the stronger had inflicted on the weaker.
Cawke’s career spanned close to half a century as a radio and TV announcer at Mogadishu, and subsequently at the BBC and VOA. Whether he was assigned as a football commentator, music request presenter (I Maqashii oo Imadaddaali), news reader, or talk show host, Cawke, with his distinctive rich resonating voice, would always delight his audiences and listeners. In all these different roles, he was equally at ease, eloquent and unmatched. But such memories may not last for ever and not necessarily pass on from one generation to another in the distant future. So while some or most will be forgotten, at best some may remain enduring.
That is the way it goes and a good example is Abdullahi Qarshe, another national icon whose composure and singing of nationalist and love songs captivated generations during the struggle for independence and the early independence years. Even if present-day generations are unfamiliar with him or his work, no one can take away his lasting legacy as the composer and singer of the song for the national flag (Qolobaa Calankeedu Waa Cayne) as well as the signature tune of the BBC Somali Service which is played since 1957 during the Service’s daily transmissions.
For Cawke, his legacy would be his selfless dedication to his profession to serve as a role model for current and future broadcasters. A yearly prize for outstanding journalists and broadcasters organised by the State would be a fitting memory to him and a boost to maintaining or raising the standards of the profession. But a second and far more indelible memory of Cawke is his role in the 1977 war with Ethiopia over the Somali-inhabited territory. He was that one rare reporter who had connected with people and gave meaning to their struggle.
Cawke would be the one to announce the daily glorious victories of the Somali national army as it swept into the Somali Galbeed and, within a matter of month or two, chased the dispirited defeated Ethiopian army from the Somali-inhabited territory. Listeners of radio Mogadishu everywhere would be glued to their radios waiting for Cawke to come on air. Not only was he exclusively assigned to the war news, but he was also Siyad Barre’s conduit to the masses. His powerful language to belittle Mengestu Haile Marian, the former leader of Ethiopia, is historic. He deserves to be honored for his role in the war, despite Ethiopian troops present inside Somalia.
Finally, one greatly endearing aspect of Cawke’s passing is the extent of his mourning by Somali-speaking people everywhere, attesting to the fact that our people do value those among us who deserve to be honored. It should be a lesson for all of us – above all politicians, presidents among others.
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