The Somali government wants to curtail the coverage of terrorism in its country believing that will help in the war on terror.
At least 10 news websites and one television station have been banned from covering terrorist group Al Shabaab, with telcos also mandated to play a part in stamping out insecurity. The information ministry issued a directive warning news outlets that “dissemination of extremism ideology messages both from traditional media broadcasts and social media is forbidden.”
Deputy minister of information Abdirahman Yusuf announced the government will regard “all Al Shabaab related propaganda coverage including their terrorist acts and their ideology as punishable crimes.” So far, he said, more than 40 accounts on Facebook and Twitter have been suspended.
Underlining its call for journalists to preach respect for human rights, a government statement first seen by the East African reads: “This order is based on Article 10 of Somalia’s [provisional] constitution that safeguards social stability and integrity.”
But the order has just kick started a war of who will control what is published in Somalia after Al Shabaab’s response warned reporters not to take sides and instead “discharge your jobs in full fairness.”
“We are hereby warning all the media houses inside Somalia joining the war against the Islamic Sharia [Islamic laws]. Any media that intentionally sides with the government will be considered as part of the aggression.”
Journalists in the country decry attacks from the government, Al Shabaab, and even online trolls, with some being forced to delete their social media accounts, according to the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ). “Journalists are routinely and personally harassed and attacked for writing in their Facebook pages or accounts. Those who report on political events have been the subject of open and violent online attacks,” says NUSOJ secretary general Omar Osman.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks Somalia at position 140 out of 180 in terms of press freedom in 2022, noting that the country’s legal framework “is extremely repressive. Journalists are frequently forced to face military courts, which are used to justify prolonged detention.”
But even if local Somali journalists avoid covering the militia’s acts, international media and newsrooms in the neighboring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda continue to cover terrorism in the region as it keeps claiming thousands of innocent lives.
According to Sarah Repucci, senior director for research and analysis at US freedom advocacy non-profit Freedom House, technology can be used to circumvent censorship by recording “videos with low bandwidth on mobile devices and then automatically delete it after transfer to a secure server, reducing the risk of reprisals against journalists.”
Kenya, which has had its soldiers in peace keeping missions in Somalia, has suffered greatly from Al Shabaab’s bloody killings, and its journalists have given extensive coverage to fatal terrorist activities in the recent past, starting with the execution of 67 people at a mall in the capital Nairobi in 2013, followed by the murder of 147 people at a university close to the Somalia border in 2015, and that of 21 people in a hotel in the capital in 2019.
And in what was largely seen as a controversial move, in August, prime minister Hamza Barre appointed former Al-Shabaab commander Mukhtar Robow, who in 2012 had a $5 million US bounty on his head, as the minister for endowment, religious affairs, and counter-terrorism ideology, telling the press that he wanted to form “an inclusive government.”
The African Center for the Study and Research on terrorism reports that between there were 379 terrorist attacks that resulted in over 2,824 deaths across Africa in the first three months of this year. The Horn of Africa region accounted for 47 attacks with 310 deaths during the period.
In 2016, Uganda jailed for life five Al Shabaab terror suspects for their role in two bombings that killed 76 people watching the World Cup soccer final in July 2010.
The cost of terrorism in Somalia has been dire going beyond the loss of lives and the restriction of individual freedom to economic devastation with many foreign investors avoiding the market and choosing to do business in neighboring countries.