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  • on 21.10.2014
  • at 03:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Journalism in Somalia: booming but beset by dangers 0

Mogadishu — Somalia is home to a thriving journalism scene. Yet as Mohamed Abdi Warsame’s story shows, it is also the most dangerous country in Africa for media workers. “Some say my brother was killed over a woman,” he says. “That’s not true. He was killed for the sake of the truth.” 

After the evening prayer on October 21, 2012, Mohamed’s brother, a local journalist named Yusuf Warsame, was leaving a mosque in Mogadishu’s Medina neighborhood. As he made his way to a pharmacy to find relief for an earache, two pistol-wielding men stepped out of a doorway and shot him multiple times in the back.

Mohamed was turning a corner onto the same street when the shots rang out; close enough to witness the gunmen fleeing the scene.

“I saw them with my own eyes,” he says. “But I was too far away to gaze on their faces.”

Yusuf succumbed to his injuries one week later in nearby Medina Hospital, becoming the 11th Somali journalist to be assassinated in 2012. He was 22 years old. Though the attack occurred in broad daylight, no witnesses came forward, and no arrest has been made. Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked Islamist group, al-Shabab, is often fingered for killing journalists, but there is rarely enough evidence to determine guilt.

“The ones responsible are ‘unknown gunmen,’” Mohamed says. “We don’t know who they are. A government gang, al-Shabab…we just don’t know.”

Since the beginning of 2013, 23 local journalists have been murdered in Somalia, making it the most dangerous country on the African continent for media workers. Five of the victims worked for Shabelle Media Network, comprised of Shabelle Radio – one of Mogadishu’s most popular stations – as well as its online arm, Shabelle’s director, Abdi Mohamed Ismaiil, says he gets about two or three death threats per week, and they tend to adhere to a standard template.

“They tell us we’re working against Islam,” he says, puffing casually on a cigarette. “They describe the kind of car you drive, what you’re wearing — ‘blue t-shirt, black jeans,’ for example — even how you’re standing. When you look around, no one is there.”

Ismaiil says people sometimes prank-call Shabelle staff and pretend to be with al-Shabab, a joke that doesn’t sit well. “Unfortunately there’s no law against that in this country.”

Mohamed, now 19, works as a journalist for, the same position his brother once held. And it is clear that his brother’s murder has left its mark. When I snap a photo of him typing furiously at his keyboard in the company’s computer lab, he jumps halfway out of his chair.

“Not my face, not my face!”

Mohamed still lives in Medina — the Mogadishu neighbourhood where the majority of journalist assassinations have taken place — and he is terrified of being identified.

“I still haven’t received any death threats,” he says. “But when your brother is killed, you become afraid. The next time I go outside, will they shoot me?”

The following day, he tells me, he’ll be moving into Shabelle headquarters full time, joining the few dozen journalists living in cramped quarters mostly on the building’s rooftop. Many barely go outside for fear of being gunned down, conducting the business of news gathering through mobile phone calls with networks of local tipsters. Moving around the city after dark is considered tantamount to suicide.

Shabelle’s imposing headquarters stands only a few hundred yards outside Mogadishu’s heavily militarized airport compound, and houses Shabelle Radio,, and a sister radio station and website, SkyFM. Ringed in by concrete barricades and guarded by armed security 24 hours a day, the building resembles a barracks more than a broadcasting studio.

Despite the grim fact that two of his predecessors have been assassinated, Ismaiil has no plans to leave Mogadishu. His willingness to stay, he explains, stems from a profound belief that his work is vital to the recovery of war-torn Somalia.

“I want to do something good for my country,” he says.

It’s a common response among Somali journalist for why they’re willing to risk so much for their profession. That and the slightly less noble “I-want-to-be-famous” explanation. With Somalia’s time-honored reverence for poetry and storytelling, being a journalist – especially a radio broadcaster — promises a level prestige usually reserved for pop stars. This blend of patriotism and glory-seeking might explain why so many young Somalis are eager to throw themselves into such a dangerous and poorly paid job — typically as little as $50 to $100 per month, barely the average wage of a day labourer. That, and a dash of Islamic fatalism.

“Everybody has his day to die,” says Abdirahim Isse Addow, director of the state-owned Radio Mogadishu. “There’s nothing to fear.”

continue reading on African Arguments

By Jay BahadurAfrican Arguments

Photo credit: HRW/2013 Badri Media

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi