Prepared by: I. Adam
Horn Afrik News Agency for Human Rights HANAHR www.hanahr.net
I. Introduction and Brief History
Internet usage in Somalia grew 39.9% iin the last five years, registering the highest in Africa.
Source: Internet Usage Statistics for Africa
Communication in the Somali society has been transmitted orally for a longtime, earning a widely reciprocated nickname for the Somali people: an oral society. In part because the medium for which the communication is without it impossible, the Somali language, was barely written 45 years ago in its new Latino Alphabets.
The first exposure to media in Somalia, therefore, had to come in an oral form. In the early 1950s, Radio Hargeisa was established in the then British protectorate, now breakaway region of Somaliland. Around that same time, Gamal Abdelnassir, Egypts late ambitious leader ordered Radio Arab Voices, a Pan-Arab broadcasting service out of Cairo to open a Somali speaking service. The short program was barely audible in some parts of Somalia. In 1957, three years before the independence of Somalia from Britain in the North and Italy in the South, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) launched a Somali speaking service based in London as part of its international services. Several years later, Radio Mogadishu was launched in the now ruined capital, Mogadishu.
Somali-speaking people scattered over four nations (Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya.) In the Horn of Africa, continued to transmit mass communication orally until 1973 when the Somali language was, for the first time, written unripe in a Latin alphabet. Following that breakthrough, the first form of print media, Xiddigta Oktoobar (October Star), a government controlled daily newspaper was published the next year. Along with Radio Mogadishu, October Star resembled the propaganda machine of the communist-turned-socialist government of Gen. Mohamed Siyad Barre, the late dictator president of Somalia.
Disgusted with too much self-glorification, Somalis turned to the BBC Somali Service (BSS) to counter government propaganda. For many, the five oclock afternoon hour was exclusively allotted to the 30-minute, now 1 hour, broadcasting service to receive government gossip and, sometimes facts that government media deliberately withheld, such as the presidents near fatal automobile accident in 1986. BSSs reputation was hardly tainted, sinking knee-deep in the hearts of majority of its listeners. BBC Somali language now broadcasts via many platforms e.g. TV, Radio, and online.
Print media was no different. Strict draconian laws and low literacy rates among Somalis allowed October Star to remain the sole print media outlet in the country until the military regime was toppled in 1991. Robust Diaspora communities, estimated at two million, sought refuge around the world, particularly in the West. An explosion of print media erupted nationwide and, to a lesser degree, in Diaspora communities.
That newspaper boom continued up until the dot com boom in the late 1990s, when several Somali websites emerged in sheer numbers on the World Wide Web. By early 2001, at least 100 Somali websites, offering news and information about Somalia, were established. The number skyrocketed from there on, having a profound impact on the use of traditional media (mostly radio and newspapers).
Despite the surge in websites, BSS continued to be engrossed in the hearts and minds of most Somalis, including the Diaspora communities. Arguably, the BBC remains to be the most popular source of news and information about Somalia, despite vocal chorus criticizing its programming and quality. (1)
II. Background Information about websites
Today, more than 300 Somali websites for different purposes exist. Most popular genres include: news, information, entertainment, and faith-based. Similarities in design and in service among Somali websites outnumber differences. Almost all of them operate in an aggregated fashion, offering a one-stop news, information, opinion, sports and entertainment sections. Mundane things such as obituaries, weddings announcements and classified ads, historically monopolized by traditional media, are now almost entirely available on websites. Like their audience, the vast of majority of Somali websites are administered by Diaspora Somalis. (2)
In fact, evidence shows that Somali immigrants have higher internet usage rates compared to their peers. Quite old survey conducted by Wilder Research, an arm of Wilder Foundation, in 2000 shows that 42% of Somali refugees in Minnesota consider the internet as their main news source, compared to 12% – 18% among Latino, Hmong and Russian communities. (3) Cognizant that Somalis are the latest wave of immigrants to Minnesota and, notwithstanding limited internet availability at the time of the survey, the study is indicative to the communitys substantial appetite for using websites as an alternative media source.
The popularity of Somali websites over traditional media among Diaspora communities can further be attributed to the unavailability of traditional media, especially the magnificently addictive BBC Somali Service, barely outside of Africa and few other locations before it was finally made available online in 2001. Elderly Somalis particularly suffered without the BBC. (A friend of mine told me the story of his neighbor in California who used to receive a weekly dose of taped BBC programs sent to him from London by one of his sons who was obligated to do just that for his addicted father until the BBC was finally streaming online).That excruciating experience prompted some Somalis to explore new ways to stay connected with the homeland. The World Wide Web not only became the answer but staged a gateway to the BBC: today, almost all websites render three links to all three daily BBC programs to woo more traffic.
Inside Somalia, where the Internet service is prohibitively limited, the findings are quite flabbergasting. One estimate puts the Internet usage just 10% shy of landline telephones and almost 50% greater than the decade-old mobile phone technology. (4) Another statistic reflects that internet usage in Somalia grew 44,400% in the last five years, registering the highest in Africa. (5)
The websites are so informative that one can even access the entire constitution of Somalia and the annual budget of Somaliland in 2006, including, among other tedious things, President Dahir Riyale Kahins excessive salary. (6)
III. Escaped Technology?
In a sense, the swift spread of Internet technology usage within Somalis underscores how the technology has escaped within this community so vastly. (By contrast, an Ethiopian colleague of mine confirmed with me that his community, albeit an abundance in number, has fewer news and information websites than Somalis.) Although chiefly unsustainable, an average of one new website emerges a month. It is arguable, nonetheless, that due to the deeply seated polarization among Somalis, often for tribal motives, the leap in websites is totally comprehendible.
Websites have particularly gained from their non-linear, interactive and convenience-oriented service. For the first time in their history, Somalis found a leveled plain-field where they can engage in an almost limitless discourse, regardless of tribe, class or location. Quite the contrary, traditional media (radio stations, newspapers and TV stations) have retained supremacy along tribal, class and gender lines. So-called major tribes, men and the affluent portion of the society had and continue to dominate traditional media unchallenged.
IV. Websites as an alternative media
The prevalence use of websites by Diaspora and local communities as an alternative media has several identifiable trajectories:
A. Possible departure from oral society.
Perhaps the term oral society becomes unfit, if not condescending, at least for Diaspora Somalis as their utility and technical-know-how of the internet increases pointedly.
B. Preservation of Somali language, literature, and culture.
Somali websites are also conducive to the preservation of the severely underdeveloped Somali language. A maximum utility of the three-decade-old language in a communication module is underway. Many people who never had the opportunity to learn Somali language in schools are being exposed to written forms of the language on the websites. This trend, alas, passes largely unappreciated and unnoticed by most readers of the websites. But its conceivably the most vital use of the internet. Ditto the Somali literature. Had it not been the websites, Somali music, lyrics, poems and other forms of literature may have been totally submerged as there are no encyclopedias, libraries or institutions in working conditions.
Aftahan one of the websites that preserves Somali language and literature
In fact, such websites as Aftahan.com, Afgarad.com and Somalipen.org, just to name a few, are small, but vocal portals promoting the preservation of Somali language and literature. Some are engaged in an advanced development of the language with the help of the icon, Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame (Hadraawi), a respected authority in Somali literature who now has his own website, Hadrawi.com, where he sparingly discusses Somali literature.
Unfortunately, first generation Diaspora Somalis may have already lost much of the language, or blended it with other languages in their respective new countries. A recent observation of Somaliaonline.com, a popular blog for young, Diaspora-schooled, urbane Somalis around the world indicates a peculiar mix of Somali and English, already termed Somenglish by one blogger. A benign discussion about Somenglish leads to one of the members to exemplify Waryaa yesterday ayaan ku soo wacay, and, you didnt call me back. Maxaa qabanee tomorrow? This member was quickly rebuked by another who disqualified that statement from Somenglish, only to introduce his ideal one: Thats not Somenglish sxbow. You want inaa ku speakgareysid Somenglish? Waa inaad isku mix gareysaa, haddii kale it becomes sentence-yaal la is daba dhigay. Ironically, all seem to be enjoying this discussion. (8)
C. Media convergence.
The most dynamic trajectory for using websites as an alternative media is merging it with other types of media, such as radio stations and newspapers and incorporating them into a single online publication. This process, known as media convergence, is taking a remarkable toll in Somali media. Nearly all websites practice one of form of media convergence or another. A sizable number of them materialize all forms of convergence. Chief among them is Somaliweyn.com, which frequently posts audio and video sound bites from an affiliate radio and TV stations in Sweden and in Mogadishu. Hiiraan.com, arguably the most popular Somali website, routinely uses sound bites and imagery for stories and interviews. Many others, such as Allsbc.com and Hornafrik.com are subsidiaries of an existing radio or TV stations. Seldom is news item available only in text or audio format on the aforementioned websites.
Cartoonist Amin Amir
The talk about media convergence becomes incomplete without mentioning aminarts.com, a virtual studio for the extremely popular political cartoonist, Amin Amir. Its this website that deciphers the otherwise cumbersome political process of Somalia. Mr. Amir, dubbed the best cartoonist and person of the year by Hiiraan.com, draws weekly cartoons, sketching the political saga in satiric fashion. He often captures the underlying political maneuvers that websites and traditional media collectively failed to portray. His cartoons are highly affectionate, exhilarating and sometime nerve-racking.
Media convergence is particularly an area where traditional media has fallen behind significantly. Although the BBC Somali Service has a website, its contents are internationally-geared with little relevance to local issues, thereby sacrificing immense readership. When national events occur, Somali websites exceedingly outpace traditional media in breaking news, sometimes with video clips. For example, when the newly formed Somali parliament erupted in ballistic brawl on March 17th last year, Somali websites expeditiously posted the entire burst, video and audio, on their front pages for extended periods of times. Likewise, when Swedish authorities unexpectedly arrested Col. Abdi Qaybdid, a senior police officer visiting there in connection with mass murder, Somali websites not only posted a video clip showing his sensational arrest but literally re-broadcasted a tape used for his indictment. His subsequent exoneration by Swedish court which released him was also posted online minutes later. Ditto for another clip showing a young, knife-wielding, mentally-ill Somali man shot to death by police in Columbus, Ohio.
Leaders of the limping Transitional Federal Government (TFG) routinely rely on websites for complete coverage when visiting international destinations. The most recent TFG visit to Brussels was not only covered by freelance reporters, but the entire press conference with EU leaders remains accessible on some websites. More importantly, websites report from remote parts of Somalia, often with digital images- another area where traditional media, for all its constraints, underperformed. Reciprocating such images for extended period of times, stirred a virtual community and an unforeseen national solidarity.
D. Introduction to advertisement.
Before websites got a grip on Somalis, particularly the Diaspora community, whose purchasing power is enormous, advertisement was confined to few radio stations for fewer allotted timetables. Today, nearly all websites have some ads in their front pages. Some, such as Hiiraan.com, found headways in commercial advertisement to the tune of thousands of dollars annually a remarkably good deal for a market that continues to resist commercial advertisement. Of course, most Somali webmasters pay trivial to operate a fairly low-to-mid quality websites, enabling them to afford to be in business even without an established market for advertisement revenue.
Products and services advertised on Somali websites are predominantly intended for Diaspora audiences. Some are for local consumers and some are for both consumers.
Major advertisers are:
For Diaspora: Money wiring companies, live music concerts, new record albums, films, shops, malls, not to mention immigration and accounting services.
For locals: Telephone and Internet companies offering products and services.
For both: Hotels, real estate, job vacancies, travel agencies, restaurants and books.
Somali websites are major employers inside Somalia. Nearly all websites have a reporter whos typically armed with a computer, internet connection and a digital camera. They feed daily, weekly and monthly stories from Somalia to entertain the growing audience of the websites. The median monthly salary of a reporter in Somalia is $150-$200, a lucrative deal for a reporter with little or no training in a country whose unemployment rate exceeds 85%. (7) The industry is so popular that Ahmed Idaawaqaca, a former online reporter for Somaliweyn.com and HornAfrik.com was recently hired by the BBC Somali Service.
F. Mobilizations and humanitarian appeals.
A growing trend is community mobilizations and announcements utilizing websites as a platform to outreach others. Following brutal beheading of five Somali men accused of drug trafficking at the behest of Saudi Arabian government last year, community activists around the world used Somali websites to launch a massive demonstration in front of Saudi Embassies in London and other European capitals.
Equally growing is the use of websites for humanitarian appeals. Currently, several websites have postings asking financial support for young, often naturally deformed children in Somalia. A single appeal for severely disabled child might appear on several websites. For a number of years, Isse Dhollawaa, a Somali native who is naturalized Australian and his Australian native wife pioneered humanitarian trips inside Somalia to bring severely deformed children back to Australia for treatment. The websites served as a platform for Dhollawaa and his wife. And just in the last year, Mayo Clinic, a prestigious hospital in Minnesota accepted to treat a severely deformed young girl posted on a Somali website without charge. While preparing her administrative procedures, volunteers realized that the young girl had been admitted into another less bureaucratic hospital in the Austrian capital, Vienna, with the help of naturalized Norwegian volunteer who saw the appeal on the websites.
G. Incitement and marginalization.
Having said that, however, it is erroneously misleading to illustrate Somali websites as an utopian platforms designed to do good deeds. A fair number of websites are notoriously known for their senseless incitement- one that comes with multiple forms and shapes. Most websites deliberately avoid negatively implicating their tribe or warlord in a news item, opinion or an editorial. Others openly post press releases from their tribes elder-men, irrespective of the content. A near routine procedure for some websites is to publish letters from their tribe, allegedly signed by tens of reputable professors, engineers, high ranking military officials and intellectuals, often to solidify the tribes political position. More often, those signatories were neither asked proper authorization nor were they aware of such a meeting.
Audaciously, some websites are named after tribes while others demonize tribal foes in an editorial piece or suggestively call for a self defense war (9). Its not an understatement that majority of Somali websites foster tribal views and are accurately reflective of their tribes political, social and occasionally military agenda.
A truth-seeking reader ought to travel an extra mile and constantly renegotiate facts to identify several key websites who built rapport with readers and established themselves as fairly objective sites. Unfortunately, such websites are handful among the innumerable on the Internet.
The state of Somali websites maybe characterized as an anticlimactic in its scrutiny-free, tribally-motivated style, but the overall prevalence use of the technology is certainly a noticeable departure from the oral society age. The use of Somali websites may qualify to become a cultural phenomenon, emblematic of Somalis love to talk this time, in a written form. Despite relatively new exposure to internet technology, Somalis seem to be quickly picking it up and perhaps escaping with it. Cognizant that websites are non-linear, two-way form of mass communication, its use morphed from an experimental to experience age. Somali websites are doubtlessly becoming a competitive alternative media and a force to reckon with, especially in the areas of media convergence, news pace and opinion variety. The relatively affordable and easily operatable internet technology is giving websites an obvious edge. The Diaspora communitys purchasing power combined with its convenience-oriented demand for information is another advantage for websites. As more Diaspora and local consumers turn into websites for news and information, traditional media appears to be losing some important constituency, should they not stay competitive in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
Somalia – Mass Media
Free online information regarding Mass Media, Somalia
Prior to the overthrow of the Siad Barre regime in January 1991, all domestic publications and broadcasting were controlled by the government. The Ministry of Information and National Guidance published the country’s only daily newspaper, Xiddigta Oktoobar (October Star), which offered editions in Arabic, English, Italian, and Somali. The ministry also published a variety of weekly and monthly magazines. The state-run Somali National News Agency (SONNA) distributed press reports about the country to foreign news bureaus. The ministry’s Broadcasting Department was responsible for radio and television broadcasts. The two radio stations, at Mogadishu and Hargeysa, transmitted a variety of news and entertainment programs. Radio Mogadishu featured about two hours each day of programs in foreign languages, including Afar, Amharic, Arabic, English, French, Italian, Oromo, and Swahili. In 1988, the most recent year for which statistics were available, there were an estimated 375,000 radio receivers in Somalia. Television service was inaugurated in 1983; two hours of programs were broadcast daily from Mogadishu. The civil war disrupted service in the 1990s, however.
After Siad Barre’s ouster, the provisional government maintained the publishing and broadcasting functions of the Ministry of Information and National Guidance. However, it had no authority over the new Radio Hargeysa, which was controlled by the SNM, and which, following the May 1991 declaration of independence, renamed the Voice of the Republic of Somaliland. The provisional government in the south announced that newspapers would be permitted to publish free of government censorship, but by mid-1991, the only new paper that had appeared was the USC’s Al Majlis (The Council). Subsequently, publication of newspapers became impossible because the country disintegrated into civil war in late 1991 and early 1992.
Official Country Name:
Somali Democratic Republic
Region (Map name):
Somali, Arabic, Italian,English
BACKGROUND & GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS
Most press activity in Somalia is centered in Mogadishu. Newspapers and magazines are published in English, Somali, and Italian. Different sources claim two to nine daily newspapers operating in Somalia; unfortunately, each report may be accurate depending upon the day figures were gathered and the political situation. These newspapers have limited readershipmost under 10,000and inconsistent circulations due to the conflicts.
The Ministry of Information and National Guidance publishes a variety of weekly and monthly publications, and Xiddigta Oktobar (October Star), a daily Somali language paper. One privately owned newspaper managed to open in 1991, Al Majlis (The Council) and several others have opened between 1997 and 2002. There are many factional papers that are photocopied and have small distributions.
Audience and Language
Though Somali is the official language of the state, Arabic, Italian, and English are also spoken. According to the U.S. Department of State, most of Somalia’s 7 million citizens (85 percent) are ethnic Somali; 15 percent are Bantu and Arab. Ninety-nine percent of the population is Sunni Muslim. The work force is 3.7 million: 60 percent pastoral nomads and forty percent agriculture, government, trading, fishing, industry-related to agricultural production, handicrafts, and other areas.
The 1973 introduction of an official Somali orthography based on the Latin alphabet, replacing several older systems, allows the Somali language, with three main dialects and standard usage of Common Somali, to be used throughout the nation. Where language-based prejudice and economic injustice were prevalent prior to 1973, the adoption of an official language allows for wider economic and educational access.
Somalia is one of the poorest, least developed countries in the world. Agriculture is the most important segment of the economy. A majority of the population is nomadic or semi-nomadic and dependent on livestock. A small sector of the economy processes agricultural products such as sugar, corn, and sorghum; however, the civil war has forced the closing of many of these facilities. There is a small fishing industry on the coast. Livestock and bananas are the main exports.
The advancement and development of Somalia’s economy is largely dependent on international assistance because of the internal problems and a significant lack of skilled, literate, and educated workers.
PRESS LAWS & Violence against Journalists
Somalia’s new media law poses threat to media freedom and rights of journalists
By Somali Journalists Syndicate – SJS – August 26, 2020 768 0
MOGADISHU, Somalia, 26 August 2020 – Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) and the Somali Media Association (SOMA) strongly protest against the oppressive and draconian Media Law (amendment) which was signed into law by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and followed by an announcement to officiate its enactment by the Ministry of Information on Wednesday 26 August and warn that the amended media law will have chilling effect on both the Somali Media houses and the journalists.
The amended version of the media law remains the same as the previous media law, which was signed into law in 2016, and the legal comments submitted by Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), Somali Media Association (SOMA) and other media associations were not incorporated, giving the government a pretext to crackdown critical media and journalists.
Having reviewed the new media bill, SJS and SOMA:
Are dismayed by the requirements of accreditation and registration of journalists into a government database under the Ministry of Information and yet-to-be-formed Somali Press Council, a stipulated in Article 18 of this law. SJS and SOMA are calling that registration of journalists should be a self-regulatory.
oppose any type of justification for censorship to be imposed on the media on a condition that a media house is deemed to be breaching laws including the Media Law itself, according to Article 3 (Clause 3). The Media Law should forbid any type of prior censorship unconditionally and guarantee the right to freedom of information as enshrined in Article 18 and 32 of the Provisional Federal Constitution (2012). The right to freedom of expression is also protected by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which Somalia is a signatory and in the Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).
Reject the restrictions of media coverage under the pretext of vaguely worded provisions as per Article 4 of this Law which cites “spreading false news”, “inciting violence or promoting tribalism” or “spreading unfounded propaganda” and “disseminating any news that contains hate or extremism”.
Are concerned by the imposition of a monetary fine (that will be issued in the form of a special regulation) on journalists, editors, media managers for breaching the media law or breaking government-owned Press Council’s “code of ethics”. Worrisome is that this Law gives the Attorney General the powers to prosecute journalists, editors and media managers over “payment of fines”.
Are disturbed by the extra powers given to the Ministry of information for it to have a firm control on Somali Press Council. The Somali Press Council should be independent from government interference at all.
The requirement for the media owners to declare amount of money to be invested on the media house, its source of income/funds, private addresses and identity of managers as prerequisites for applying registration, according to Article 11, is unacceptable. We also refuse the imposition of advance deposit of unspecified amount of money for any new media house before seeking license, as described in the Article 9.
Journalism is not a crime and therefore any provision that criminalizes the free flow of information and the perceived critical reporting, particularly Article 29 which suggests imposing draconian penalties for “dissemination or publication of false information”, “incitement” or “spreading propaganda against the dignity of any citizen, individual, institution or the state” must be reviewed. The same Article violates the protection of journalistic sources as one of the key rights journalists have in order to exercise their freedom of expression and to execute their duties as a ‘’public watchdog”. We call the removal for this article.
Somalia’s Transitional National Government (TNG) had yet to adopt a constitution as of June 2002. The effort to establish a strong federal government is supported by various groups and clans in Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Arab states; the TNG is opposed by Somalia Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC).
The Somali Republic has adopted through referendum a constitution based on Islamic Shari’a (law), which means the citizens and government must abide by Islamic law found in the Quran. The constitution implies freedom of expression; however, Section 3 of Article 32 shows the conflict and contradiction: ” All acts to subjugate them [media] are prohibited, and a law shall determine their regulation.” This regulation of the media undoes any attempts at a free press, and the acts of violence and censorship against journalists are clear examples of how the leadership of the State of Puntland does not support a free press.
According to Amnesty International’s 2000 Report, Somaliland and Puntland, which have some stable government systems, are not recognized in the international community because of poorly functioning judicial systems, primarily based on clan courts, that do not meet international standards. These courts tend to rubber-stamp whatever charges are made against citizens; these are the courts trying journalists.
Somalia: Killings, corruption and censorship besiege media freedom
A surge in violent attacks, threats, harassment and intimidation of media workers is entrenching Somalia as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist, Amnesty International said today.
In a new report, , “We live in perpetual fear”, the organization documents dramatic deterioration in the right to freedom of expression and media freedom since President Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmajo’ took office in February 2017. Journalists contend with targeted attacks from both Al-Shabaab and government security forces, increased censorship and arbitrary arrests, forcing eight to flee the country.
From barely surviving explosive-wired cars, being shot, beaten up and arbitrarily arrested, journalists are working in horrifying conditions.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa
“Somali journalists are under siege. From barely surviving explosive-wired cars, being shot, beaten up and arbitrarily arrested, journalists are working in horrifying conditions,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“This crackdown on the right to freedom of expression and media freedom is happening with impunity, the authorities hardly investigate or prosecute perpetrators of attacks on journalists.”
Killed by police bullets, Al-Shabaab
At least eight journalists have been killed in Somalia since President Farmajo took office. Five died in indiscriminate Al-Shabaab attacks, two were killed by unidentified attackers, and one was shot dead by a federal police officer.
Seventeen-year-old SBS TV cameraman Abdirirzak Qassim Iman was killed by a police bullet to his head on 26 July 2018, while returning from an assignment in Mogadishu’s Waberi district.
Somali journalist Ismail Sheikh Khalifa who narrowly escaped death recuperating in Turkey
Somali journalist Ismail Sheikh Khalifa who narrowly escaped death when his car exploded, recuperates in Turkey
Unusually, the policeman, Abdullahi Nur Ahmed, was convicted of murder. He was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison and ordered to pay 100 camels as compensation to the journalist’s family. He is however hiding in Galmudug and continues to evade justice.
Two journalists, Mohamed Sahal Omar and Hodan Nalayeh, were among 26 people killed in an Al-Shabaab attack in a Kismayo hotel in July 2019. Awil Dahir Salad of Universal TV was killed in an Al-Shabaab car bomb attack in Mogadishu in December 2018. Freelance cameraman, Ali Nur Siyad, was killed in a truck bomb attack that killed more than 500 people in Mogadishu on 14 October 2017, while Abdullahi Osman Moalim died on 13 September 2017 from injuries sustained during a suicide bomb attack on a restaurant in Beledweyne, Hirshabelle state.
Ismail Sheikh Khalifa, a journalist with Kalsan TV and media rights activist, miraculously survived when his explosives-wired car blew up as he drove from the office on 4 December 2018. He is currently in Turkey nursing critical injuries.
Under siege on all fronts
Zakariye Mohamud Timaade, formerly with Universal TV, fled the country in June 2019 after being threatened by both Al-Shabaab and government security forces for two different stories he produced. Al-Shabaab were angered by his March 2019 report about capture of three of its members by national security forces and threatened him with death, saying he “would be killed before the three Al-Shabaab men were executed”.
Another story he did in May 2019 angered security officials because it showed Al-Shabaab were active in Mogadishu. He was summoned and interrogated then sent off with a stern warning to keep off “security issues”, but received several threatening calls forcing him to flee.
The biggest fear for me was from NISA (National Intelligence and Security Agency) … I knew they wanted to kill me. In Mogadishu, you can hide from Al-Shabaab, but you cannot hide from NISA; they could easily pick me from my office. I decided to leave.
Zakariye Mohamud Timaade, a journalist who used to work with Universal TV
“The biggest fear for me was from NISA (National Intelligence and Security Agency) … I knew they wanted to kill me. In Mogadishu, you can hide from Al-Shabaab, but you cannot hide from NISA; they could easily pick me from my office. I decided to leave,” he said.
Ali Adan Mumin, a reporter with Goobjoog Media, suffered appalling abuse leaving him with no choice but to take a break from work. He was arbitrarily arrested for a Facebook post in May 2019, his case was dismissed but was detained for a couple more days at the court’s direction, and his Facebook account permanently disabled.
Amnesty International also documented censorship and allegations of bribery of media outlets by the Somalia government. Officials at the Office of the President reportedly paid monthly bribes to some media owners and directors not to publish “unfavourable” stories.
One former media director said: “I used to get a phone call from the official at the Office of the President and would meet with him at a hotel and collect the cash from him. He never allowed to deposit the money in my bank account.”
The quest for a positive image has led the authorities in Somalia to embrace repressive tactics that fly in the face of international human rights standards. The authorities have an obligation to uphold the rights to freedom of expression, information, and media freedom.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa
Journalists interviewed said their editors ordered them not to write articles critical of the offices of the President and Prime Minister, or about insecurity, corruption, and human rights violations.
Amnesty International documented four cases of journalists fired by their employers for defying censorship orders.
“The quest for a positive image has led the authorities in Somalia to embrace repressive tactics that fly in the face of international human rights standards. The authorities have an obligation to uphold the rights to freedom of expression, information, and media freedom,” said Deprose Muchena.
Social media hounding
Rampant censorship has forced many journalists to turn to social media to express their opinions, but authorities have set up dedicated teams to monitor and report critical content.
Journalists said government officials often called and aggressively threatened them with dire consequences if they refused to remove critical content from their personal social media accounts.
One journalist was forced out of his job for supporting an opposition politician on his Facebook page. He refused to change his stance, despite coercion by Office of the President staffers, who even contacted one of his former college teachers to persuade him to abandon journalism altogether.
Facebook permanently disabled, 16 personal accounts, 13 of them belonging to journalists, between 2018 and 2019, reportedly for violating Facebook “Community Standards”.
Amnesty International report
Amnesty International also documented 16 Facebook accounts that had been permanently disabled, 13 of them belonging to journalists, between 2018 and 2019, reportedly for violating Facebook “Community Standards”.
“Facebook must ensure it is not manipulated by the Somalia authorities to undermine the right to freedom of expression, especially ahead of the elections later this year. They must strengthen due diligence when investigating purported abuses of the Community Standards,” said Deprose Muchena.
“President Farmajo must take immediate steps to ensure prompt, thorough, independent and effective investigations into myriad allegations of violations of human rights and media freedom. Those suspected to be responsible must be brought to justice in fair trials.”
While Somalia enjoyed a brief period when the country’s press was free, the press has been heavily censored or under government control since 1969. The poverty and refugee status of most Somalis has left the issue of freedom of expression to be argued by a small few who often face harassment, attacks, beatings, abductions, and other forms of interference with their work. The Barre government commonly shut down newspapers, confiscated copies, and was responsible for arresting and imprisoning journalists. In 1991, the short-lived provisional government lifts all bans and censorship; by mid 1991, however, journalists are facing a return to the problems of censorship as well as physical harassment from war-lords and political groups.
The 2000 establishment of the TNG at peace talks in Djibouti offers a glimmer of hope for freedom of expression and the press. The Republic of Somaliland and the State of Puntland have been the biggest twenty-first century problems for reporters committed to the journalistic ethic of exposing the truth, including wrongdoings by authorities. Journalists working in these regions are arrested and imprisoned for criticizing the government or presenting a negative view of any issue facing the country: military actions, attacks on free press, food distribution, desertification, and environmental degradation have all resulted in censorship or harassment of some kind for journalists. In fact, several journalists have been prosecuted for saying the Somaliland and Puntland governments do not support press freedom.
While newspapers were previously representative of political parties, all independent publications were closed after Mohamed Siad Barre took power in 1969. For 22 years, most media outlets were government owned and censorship is commonplace.
The 1991 bloodless coup forced Barre and his supporters to flee Mogadishu, and left Somalia with no central government and many political and clan-based militia groups battling for power. The civil war left most Somalis uneducated and illiterate, living in poverty, and struggling for survival on a daily basis. According to the United States Committee for Refugees (USCR), many Somalis are still internally displaced or refugees in 2001. These numbers are a marked improvement over 1992, the height of the violence. Along with the human costs of war come the destruction of Somalia’s telecommunications infrastructure, educational institutions, and libraries.
In 2000, the TNG was given three years to hold election, ratify a constitution, and unite southern Somalia and the breakaway Republic of Somaliland and State of Punt-land. Somalia’s press system has struggled under this political legacy.
ATTITUDE TOWARD FOREIGN MEDIA
One of the major issues for all Somalis is the way Somalia is presented in the international community as a wasteland and failure. Somali journalists, literary scholars and writers cite a long oral tradition and a sense of pride in the nation’s culture that leaves them feeling protective of Somalia’s image; simultaneously, these intellectuals are trying to present the truth of their nation’s struggles. All journalists, foreign and local, face danger and censorship.
The Somali National News Agency (SONNA) reports the government’s point of view on the country to foreign news bureaus.
Before the fall of the central government, two radio stationsRadio Mogadishu and Radio Hargeysa offered a variety of news and entertainment in several languages. The provisional government had no control of Radio Hargeysa, and in May 1991, the SNM-run station was renamed Voice of the Republic of Somaliland. There were three radio stations in 2002, including one in Galkayo; estimates for 1997 show 470,000 radios.
In 1983, the first Somali television station, which is state-run, began broadcasting two hours per day from Mogadishu (“Somalia: Mass Media”). This television service was disrupted in the 1990s. In 2002 two stations broadcast, in Mogadishu and Hargeisa, broadcasting to 135,000 televisions by 1997 estimates.
ELECTRONIC NEWS MEDIA
There is one Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Somalia and approximately 200 Internet users. Many Somali newspapers are available online.
EDUCATION & TRAINING
Formerly a nation with a free, compulsory education system, the 1991 coup and subsequent civil war has led to the destruction of educational institutions and infrastructures. According to UNICEF, only 14 percent of school-age children attended college in 2001 (USCR). Most children born since 1985 have grown up with no formal education, and literacy rates have plummeted with an estimated 24 percent of the population able to read and write at age 15 or older in 2002.
No university-level journalism programs existed in 2002. However, in 2001 the BBC sponsored training programs throughout Somalia. The BBC also published a book, So What’s Your View, in English and Somali. This first basic handbook for sahafi (journalists) fills a void where no journalistic training materials exist in Somali and only limited texts are available in English or Arabic. Maria Frauenrath and Yonis Ali Nur based the text on 21 months of journalism experience in Somalia.
In 2001 UNESCO funded the establishment of a Web site for the East Africa Media Women’s Association (EAMWA), an organization sponsored by Open Society Institute and Freedom Forum. EAMWA seeks to educate and support the efforts of women working in the media in East Africa.
As long as Somalia lacks a unified federal government and civil war continues, it seems that only incremental growth and change will occur in the press, or the country as a whole. International support for Somalia is necessary for significant growth in the economy, educational institutions, and media outlets. If the groups desiring an Islamic state are victorious, it can be assumed that the media will continue to be measured by Islamic Shari’a, and limits and censorship will continue to dominate the press. Perhaps as more Somali journalists are trained and able to take a leadership role in the press system, these individuals will become advocates to improve the literacy and economic situation of the general population.
Reporters sans frontières –
Need to end the bloodshed
Somalia continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in Africa for media personnel, with three more journalists killed in 2019, bringing the total killed in the past ten years to 50. Political violence and corruption undermine the freedom to inform in Somalia. The pressure on journalists can come from many quarters, especially as much of the country is controlled by non-state entities or by autonomous regional governments that either do not or only barely recognize the central government’s authority.
Journalists who refuse to censor themselves are liable to be the targets of bombings or shootings by Al-Shabaab militants – the leading killers of media personnel – or are exposed to arbitrary detention (of which 2019 saw more than 20 cases), to torture or to the closure of their media by the authorities. The governments in the autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland are particularly authoritarian and put a great deal of pressure on the local media. Journalists are often brought before military courts or before courts that apply laws dating back to the military dictatorship.
The media bill adopted by parliament in a completely opaque manner at the end of 2019 contains many draconian provisions and gives the information minister the extraordinary power to control all news production. If the president signs it into law, it will undermine the encouraging efforts seen recently. Although journalists have until now been subjected to abuses almost systematically and with almost total impunity, the authorities had given some positive signals. A policeman who fatally shot a cameraman in Mogadishu in July 2018 was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison, even if he has not yet been arrested. Two soldiers were discharged from the army for tying up two journalists and leaving them in the sun. This was unprecedented in Somalia.
2000: Peace talks establish the Transitional National Government (TNG); radio commentator Ahmed Kafi Awale is shot by thieves while covering Mogadishu’s Bakara Market (freemedia.at).
2001: In June the first privately owned radio station began broadcasting in Puntland, Somalia.
ArabNet. Somalia: Overview. Available from http://ww.arab.net/.
BBC Somali Service. News Bulletins. Available at: http://ww.bbc.co.uk/
Frauenrath, Maria, and Yonis Ali Nur. What’s Your View. Available at: http://ww.wstraining.demon.co.uk/.
International Journalists’ Network. Somalia. Available at: www.ijnt.org/.
United States Committee for Refugees. “Current Country Update: Somalia,” Worldwide Refugee Information. Available from http://review.refugees.org/.
United States Library of Congress. Somalia: Communications. Available from http://emory.loc.gov.
United States Library of Congress. Somalia: Language and Education. Available from http://emory.loc.gov.
United States Library of Congress. Somalia: Mass Media. Available from http://emory.loc.gov.