A heavily pregnant woman and mother of two was among the 26 people who died on Friday after several gunmen stormed the Asasey Hotel after a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle loaded with explosives outside the hotel.
Hodan Nalayeh, a 43-year-old prominent Somali-Canadian journalist who was passionate about depicting Somalia in the positive light, had spent well over 30 years away from home. In May this year, she announced her relocation to the country in an Instagram post, describing it as “my first Ramadan back home.”
Only a few weeks after, Nalayeh was killed in a brutal blast that ripped through Kismayo along with her husband, Farid Jama Suleiman – a businessman and former regional minister in Somalia, who had together gotten married in November 2018.
Her two sons – from another marriage – were however at school when the blast happened. Authorities say the attackers battled with Jubaland’s security forces for 12 hours
Other African nationals who died in the blast included three Kenyans and three Tanzanians. There were also two Americans and one Briton.
What makes Nalayeh’s story unique?
“I did not need CNN or any other network to be a voice for my community; I needed to create my own platform. I did not need anyone to hire me when Allah hired me for the job.”
Although in all, there were 26 people who died, social media went agog over Nalayeh’s death because of the positive spotlight she was giving the country that has had been long blighted by war and famine.
She was born in Somalia in 1976 but at the age of six, her family moved to Canada. She spent most of her life in Toronto and Alberta before she returned to Somalia in May 2019 to document positive and uplifting stories of her people. Hodan was the model for a new kind of trailblazing journalist, a global figure tied to her global community.
As a child, she dreamt of working with the CNN but never got the chance to. After she failed several times to find a job at the Network, she found her way to a refugee camp in Kenya to report anyway.
Nalayeh was the founder of Integration TV, an online platform with millions of views on YouTube which describes itself as “building a community of inspiring and uplifting stories for Somalis worldwide.”
Nalayeh was a powerhouse on social media where she used her large following to continue her theme of sharing a side of Somalia rarely seen in coverage of the country.
In her last tweet dated July 11, 2019, Nalayeh spoke of a new-found passion for photography, sharing stunning images of local young fishermen in the island of Illisi, near Kismayo.
“It was an incredible day to witness #Somalia’s beauty on the island of #Ilisi,” she wrote in a thread.
In a statement released online, her family said that the 43-year-old had “spent her life devoted to serving the Somali people and reporting on positive and uplifting stories.”
“She died serving the Somali community everywhere and doing what she loved most. She brought inspiration and hope to the Somali people through storytelling. She will be deeply missed,” the statement read.
Jamila Mohamed who met Nalayeh in Kenya earlier this year told CNN over WhatsApp that “Hodan… was opening up a previously little known or seen side of Somali… Showing us that despite everything that Somalia has endured, its people still have hope, an enduring spirit and a will to make the best of a situation beyond their control,”.
In an interview with CBC News in 2016, Nalayeh is quoted as saying: “Anyone who follows their passion to help rebuild Somalia knows there’s always a risk of death.”