Every time Mohamed Olad Hassan bids goodbye to his family of six it is with that same mixture of excitement and sadness felt by a soldier departing for the battlefield. Unlike members of the armed forces, the BBC World Service's man in Somalia carries only a pen and a notebook in his kitbag.
Hassan has survived bomb and mortar attacks, witnessed colleagues die, and seen mass deaths by suicide bombers; yet his determination to tell the world what is happening in the Horn of Africa continues strong. "If I run away, the criminals tormenting my countrymen will have triumphed. The world will not know the heinous crimes which are being committed," he says.
His quest for the truth in Somalia comes at great personal strain, he admits. The 33-year-old recalls how last year the militant Islamist al-Shabab rebel group ordered him to refer to them in his reports as "al-Shabab al-Mujahedeen". But "If I did this, it meant they were fighting a holy war [jihad] on behalf of the Somali people – which isn't true," he says. Hassan's impartial reporting from Somalia has now been recognised in his being awarded the Speaker Abbot Award for Bravery by the Parliamentary Press Gallery at Westminster.
In December, he narrowly survived death while covering a graduation ceremony in a Mogadishu hotel. "People were making speeches, and we were taking notes, as usual. Then all this brightness turned to darkness," he says. "All I remember is being covered in dust. I looked across, and the young guy who was sitting next to me was dead. The seat he occupied was mine. We had changed positions briefly when I left momentarily to move my recorder nearer to the speakers." More than 20 people died in the attack.
In 2007 Hassan suffered a shrapnel injury in the leg when a mortar round landed outside his house in Mogadishu during fighting between Ethiopian troops and insurgents. Reporting in Somalia is a matter of life and death, he says, with journalists preoccupied with their safety rather than thinking of story ideas: "I can equate journalism here to death. A week hardly passes without getting threats from groups who want to influence the way you report, and who accuse reporters as the spies of Western countries."
He has been forced to move house at short notice, or even relocate to neighbouring Kenya, when the threats have been most serious. At times, he has to hire security guards just to venture onto the streets. He says he has "never regretted" leaving teaching to become a journalist. However "there are moments when I go out of Somalia, on a short visit to a neighbouring country, and regret the situation in my country, and how my people are deprived of living in peace."
In a citation for the Speaker Abbot Award, Joseph Warungu, head of African News and Current Affairs at the BBC World Service, described Hassan as the voice of the voiceless in Somalia. "A number of journalists and media professionals have been killed in recent months in Somalia. However, Mohamed has chosen to stay in Mogadishu because of a desire to inform the world, to tell the truth, and help bring peace and democracy in his country."
Warungu noted that Hassan's reporting of Somalia includes stories of the lives of ordinary people. "Even positive and harmless stories, such as a college graduation, carry grave danger," says Warungu.
Hassan says it should be understood that mostSomalis are determined to try to improve their society, rather than flee abroad: "Bad things are happening in our country, but most people would rather die in their country than leave." Hassan's remarkable bravery in the field was not enough to get him to Britain to receive his award: the Home Office refused him a visa on the grounds that he had applied too late. The journalist believes there is a stereotyped "Western view of Somalis as asylum seekers".
"In my view, the world does not care about Somalia," he adds. "Their fear is terrorism. If they were really interested in its stability, a solution would have been found by now."Reuse content