Somalia: A no go place for Journalist

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
Nov 3rd, 2012
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The Economist

MOHAMED MOHAMUD, who was known as “Turyare” or “slightly hunchbacked” to his friends, was shot by unidentified gunmen in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on October 21st.

One week later, he died of his injuries after failed abdominal surgery.

The 22-year-old reporter with the local Radio Shabelle network became the 17th Somali journalist to die this year.

The 18th followed the next day when Warsame Shire Awale, a popular radio personality, was gunned down.

This has been the deadliest year on record for Somali journalists. The country is ranked, along with Syria, as the most dangerous place for journalists to operate, according to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ). Unesco has called for an official investigation, and a fierce debate is raging among Somalis over who is carrying out the murders and why.

The explanations divide into roughly four categories: firstly there are those who blame the Shabab, a militant Islamist group, who have claimed responsibility for the majority of the deaths; others point the finger at the outgoing administration for settling scores after losing power. A third group suggests the victims were simply caught in the crossfire in what remains a violent country. Then there are those who blame corruption in the Somali media for making reporters targets.

The corruption theory has sparked the angriest response. Jamal Osman, a British-based Somali filmmaker, has argued that corruption is part and parcel of Somali media: “Journalists don’t normally ask themselves if a story is important or interesting,” he wrote. “It is about how much money they can get from their sources to publish it.” He blames the “sharuur” system of bribery for turning journalists into the foot-soldiers of businessmen and warlords, thereby making themselves targets. But broadly similar systems exist in other countries, notably Nigeria, with less lethal ramifications for reporters.

The most recent death—that of Warsame Shire Awale—is commonly thought to have been a Shabab execution. The playwright and comedian was a brave critic of the Islamists who controlled much of the capital before their retreat last August. But according to Tom Rhodes of the CPJ, they are not the only killers: “There’s enough evidence to attest that it’s not only the Shabab that is targeting journalists.”

Somali journalists have also been killed after being suspected of passing valuable information to the UN monitoring group whose reports can spell trouble for powerful business and political interests in the country. Stray bullets, assassins dressed as schoolchildren, score-settling among warlords, clan feuds and Islamic militants—in Somalia, as ever, there are many ways to die.

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