On the desk of his embassy office, Somalia's ambassador to Kenya displays an unexpected item: a Canadian flag.
His daughter insisted that he should put up a Canadian flag, so he did. After all, Ambassador Mohamed Ali Nur is a Canadian citizen, and proud of it, even if he works now as a Somali diplomat in Nairobi.
When I visited him at his office recently, he told me how much his family misses Canada. "They miss the snow," he said.
To keep them happy, he takes his children to an ice-skating rink at a hotel in Nairobi - one of the few ice rinks in Africa. Almost all of his eight children can skate.
He happily chats away about Canada for several minutes before I have to ask him about more difficult issues. It's clear, as we chat, that this is one of Canada's biggest fans.
Canadians often don't realize how much goodwill our country still enjoys around the world. After decades of generosity to the poor and needy of the world, Canada has earned a warm respect from many parts of the world. It gives us more influence than we realize.
True, we are not the boy scouts of the world any more. The war in Afghanistan has shown a more controversial side of Canada. But with our refugee and immigration policies, and our largely peaceful efforts to help others, Canada has built up an admirable reputation in many foreign countries - something that is often forgotten in our self-absorbed debates over tax dollars and deficits.
My recent visit to Kenya showed me how Canada's image is still benefiting from its generous immigration policies. It was not just the Somali ambassador who admired Canada. When I interviewed another Somali who was serving as a member of Somalia's parliament, he could not stop praising Canada.
The parliamentarian, Awad Ahmed Ashareh, came to Canada as a refugee in 1981 after he was persecuted in Somalia and imprisoned in Iraq. He got a job, gained Canadian citizenship, and worked in Toronto as a construction supervisor and property manager. Now he tells everyone about Canada's tolerance for religious minorities, its tolerance of mosques and Islamic schools.
"I am very thankful to Canada," he says. "They saved me. That's why I tell our misguided youths that they should respect the West. There is no need for violence and killing."
Later I interviewed Kenya's most respected anti-corruption campaigner, John Githongo, who had gained fame for his courageous battle to expose corruption at the highest levels of the Kenyan government.
He, too, had much warm praise for Canada. In the early days of his anti-corruption battles in the Kenyan government, he had received financial support from the International Development Research Centre, an Ottawa-based agency. Later, when forced into exile, he spent a year as an IDRC research fellow, which allowed him to survive and continue his work.
Mr. Githongo, however, was puzzled by one thing. Canada, he said, has never done much to build on its good image in Africa.
He found it all rather mysterious. With its excellent reputation around the world, Canada could be doing a lot more with its influence, he said.
"Canada has not played its proper global role," he said. "Canada can play a much more prominent role in the world."Report Typo/Error