Why Somalia struggles with ‘dangerous’ tag for journalists

Thursday November 03 2022
Somali journalists during a conference in Mogadishu

Somali journalists during a conference in Mogadishu on February 6, 2022. Somali PM Hamza Abdi Barre on November 2, 2022 promised to implement the UN and Somalia’s National Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists PHOTO | COURTESY


Somalia’s labelling as the most dangerous place for journalists to work in continues to endure, even as authorities promised to rework their guard on press freedom.

As the world marked the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on Wednesday, Somalia was yet again counting the costs of insecurity on free journalism.

Isse Hassan aka Kona, a reporter with M24 TV, channel was killed on Saturday after a twin bomb explosion caught him and three others near a junction close to the Federal Ministry of Education. Three other journalists were seriously wounded in an attack Somali government officials say more than 100 people were killed.

Kona and his colleagues are said to have been hit by a second explosion as they rushed back to their office to record the events on tape, a local press lobby indicated. His other colleagues, Feisal Omar Hashi, Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulle and Bile Abdisalan Ahmed — who worked for various international agencies — were seriously wounded.

Isse becomes only the latest figure to be added to the death toll.


54 journalists killed in decade

According to the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), which condemned the attack, Kona’s death means 54 journalists have been killed in Somalia in the past decade, making the country a place where journalists are most in danger on the continent.

On Wednesday, Somalia Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre issued a statement vowing to defeat Al-Shabaab and make the country safe for everyone, including journalists.

“Without journalists working in a safe and secure environment, Somalia cannot attain the development it aims for,” Barre said on Wednesday.

Crimes against journalists

November 2 is the day sanctioned by the UN to draw attention to the level of impunity for crimes against journalists.

“I would like to underscore that those crimes against journalists in all [their] shapes and forms have no place in Somalia,” PM Barre added, promising to punish all perpetrators.

Somalia has made such promises in the past in but they have not been implemented. A report by NUSOJ on Wednesday said impunity in Somalia has ensured that crimes against journalists are overlooked.

Al-Shabaab fighters have killed several journalists in Somalia, especially for reporting on issues the militant group did not like. In November last year, Abdiaziz Guled aka Afrika, the director of state-owned Radio Mogadishu, was killed in a targeted suicide bombing as he rode in a car with a colleague identified as Sharmarke Mohamed Warsame, the director of Somali National TV, also a government media outlet. Afrika had been a veteran of the airwaves and criticised Al-Shabaab in a radio show. The militants marked him for elimination.

State officials on the spot

Government operatives have also not escaped blame. According to NUSOJ, government officials and politicians too have intimidated, threatened or refused to protect journalists. And even when culprits are known, they are never punished.

“The widespread acceptance of impunity for those who attack journalists in Somalia is in itself a major cause for concern. But it also signals a lack of collective political will to tackle the problem head on,” said NUSOJ Secretary-General Omar Faruk Osman.

In Somalia, the problem is beyond culture and the government has been criticised for refusing to amend archaic laws, such as the penal code, which are seen as punitive to press freedom and violate international principles.

“Across the country, journalists increasingly face the risk of prosecution as the legal regime is skewed towards control rather than facilitation and protection of journalistic freedoms,” NUSOJ said.

But there is hope as the Somali PM Wednesday promised to implement the UN and Somalia’s National Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists, which would address key challenges that make it unsafe for media practitioners.

The UN Plan was issued in 2012 to tackle impunity after the global body learnt of rising cases of attacks on journalists globally.

Additional reporting by Aggrey Mutambo