EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of short videos and written pieces examining the impact of COVID-19 on immigrants and refugees in Minnesota. The project is produced in partnership with the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota.
If the Somali-language media landscape had a father, it would undoubtedly be Abdulkadir Mohamed Mursal.
For nearly half a century, Abdulkadir brought vivid radio stories into the living rooms of Somalia, established newsrooms wherever he found a home, and trained hundreds of journalists, some of whom now work at radio services including VOA Somali and BBC Somali.
In the early 1970s, Abdulkadir became the first person in Somalia to create and publish satirical artwork—hand-drawn commentary cartoons that poked fun at social and political misdoings unfolding in the East African country.
In Minnesota, where he’d lived since 2014, Abdulkadir worked as a freelance writer, provided media consulting, and mentored young journalists seeking to make their mark on Somali-language radio and television stations.
But on September 30, COVID-19 cut his life short. He was 67.
“He will be missed,” said Abdirahman Sheikh Mursal, a former reporter at Radio Mogadishu and a close friend of Abdulkadir since 1976. “He was a role model for young journalists. He was always creating new programs and training the next generation of Somali journalists.”
Over the past few weeks, Abdulkadir’s colleagues and students around the world—including those in Minneapolis, Mogadishu and Nairobi—have held events to mourn his death and celebrate his legacy. Others have taken to social media to commemorate the man many describe as “selfless,” “humble,” and “teacher.”
Life in Mogadishu
Abdulkadir was born in Mogadishu in 1953—seven years before Somalia gained its independence from Italy and Britain. At the time, the city served as a hub for Somali intellectuals, political activists, and nationalists who were leading the struggle against colonialism.
In 1972, Abdulkadir graduated from Jamal Abdinasir Secondary School in Mogadishu. A year later, he secured a job as a writer at Xiddigta Oktoobar (The October Star), where he became a famous cartoonist.
Decades later, and in the wake of Abdulkadir’s death, Somalis still remember some of these early cartoons. Speaking to Somali National Television at a memorial event in October, one attendee recalled a cartoon that took on the socialist government of Siad Barre for its inability to provide consistent and reliable electricity in the capital city.
“He was the first newspaper cartoonist in the country,” said Abdirahman Sheik Mursal, the former journalist (now a case manager at Hennepin County). “No one tried that before him.”
A few years later, Abdulkadir picked up another gig—this one at Radio Mogadishu as a technician. Immediately, Abdulkadir became among the most skilled technicians at the station. And for that, Abdirahman said, he earned the respect of many employees.
In 1975, the Somali government sent Abdulkadir to train as a radio engineer in Russia. At the time many Somali students went to study through a scholarship program that the Soviet Union—then an ally of the Barre regime—established in 1961.
After his return from Russia, Abdulkadir immediately rose through the ranks at Radio Mogadishu, becoming writer and producer of a popular show called Olol iyo Hooyadii.
Life in Nairobi
The 1991 civil war interrupted Abdulkadir’s long career in journalism, as it disrupted the careers of millions of Somalis. But wherever he went, he found a way to build radio stations that helped inform Somalis.
When he arrived in Nairobi as a refugee in 2001, for example, Abdulkadir recruited veteran journalists he had worked with at Radio Mogadishu to create an hour-long Somali-languge daily program at Iqra FM, a community radio station that serves Muslim communities in Kenya.
Through Iqra FM, Abdulkadir and his colleagues—the late Mohamed Aden Hersi Terra, Yasin Esse Wardere, and Kadija Mayow Abukar—connected tens of thousands of ethnically Somali Kenyans as well as Somali refugees and immigrants to news events around the world.
“Abdulkadir Mohamed Mursal was an innovative man,” said Abdirahman Furre (known as “British”), a former VOA journalist who knew Abdulkadir for more than two decades. “Whenever he moved to a new city or country, he established a new radio station.”
In addition to Iqra FM, Abdulkadir also established Radio Ergo, which provides humanitarian news and information to millions of people in Somalia and Somali-speaking regions in Kenya and Ethiopia.
But Abdulkadir didn’t just develop radio stations. He inspired, trained, and mentored young journalists who eventually landed jobs at the institutions he built. For Radio Ergo, British said, Abdulkadir hired “many people who were unemployed in Nairobi. He also hired correspondents in Somalia to send news on social issues across the country.”
Today, the journalists he mentored serve as administrators and senior international broadcasters at radio and television stations across the U.S., Canada, Africa, and Europe. “For us, we used to only focus on our job,” Abdirahman said. “But Abdulkadir Mursal invested time in training other journalists. No Somali journalist has trained as many Somali journalists as did Mursal.”
The journalists and producers who are now running Radio Ergo in Nairobi, British added, are former students of Abdulkadir.
Life in Minneapolis
In 2014, Abdulkadir moved to Minnesota to join his family. A year later, he did what he had always done: He helped establish KALY 101.7-FM, the first Somali American radio station in the state, which provides news and information to Somali-speaking residents in Minneapolis.
Over the past six years, Abdulkadir organized conferences and social events for Somali journalists, creating for them an opportunity to network and learn from one another.
“He was a connector,” said Abdirahman. “Although I left the media profession a long time ago, he would always call me and introduce me to young journalists in Minnesota.”
“He welcomed me to Minnesota,” British added. “He was the person that brought together all the Somali journalists in the area.”
Aside from his long career in journalism, Abdulkadir was a tireless advocate for the preservation of the Somali culture and language. At a time when many young Somalis are coming of age in the West without speaking Somali, Abdulkadir often emphasized, through events and his social media platform, the importance of learning the Somali language.
Abdirahman Mukhtar, a youth leader and founder of the Minneapolis-based Tusmo Times, said he first met Abdulkadir at the 2015 International Mother Language Day event in Minneapolis. The annual event brings together a group of Somali intellectuals and writers who discuss the development and preservation of the Somali language.
“He cared deeply about the language,” said Abdirahman. “He wanted to keep it alive.”
After fighting complications caused by COVID-19 for six weeks in the hospital, Abdulkadir died in September. But his legacies remain alive: The institutions he built and the people he mentored continue to inform millions of Somali speakers around the world.