Early this week, Somalia’s prime minister, Hamze Abdi Barre spoke unexpectedly to threaten journalists and ban constitutionally granted media freedom in Somalia. He vowed to crash critical and independent journalism. He was speaking few days after the secretary-general of the Somali Journalists Syndicate, Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, was arbitrarily detained in Mogadishu.
“There is no anything called freedom. There is nothing called media freedom. They [journalists] are reporting the fight and the towns the terrorists captured and still they are using journalism as a cover up. We will not allow that,” said Hamze Abdi Barre a former Al-Itihad Al-Islami commander who was appointed as the country’s prime minister in mid-June.
Barre’s speech expressed the description of his Islamist ideology to which he belongs to. Just days after his appointment as the new prime minister, Barre could not hide his profound hatred against Christian soldiers and women serving within the African Union forces in Somalia. He caught the attention of many Somalis by saying that the Villa Somalia office where he lives is guarded by “a young dirty girl from Uganda whose head is not covered!” describing female African Union soldiers securing the state house Villa Somalia.
Since 1992, 84 journalists and media workers killed in Somalia according to the documentation made by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Journalists operate in a corrupt and violent environment making Somalia the most dangerous country for journalists in Africa. However, many of the attacks against journalists took place under the rule of the governments led by Islamist groups such as Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (AIAI). Not only the media they hate the most, they also ban women from working as they also advocate for child marriage.
“If you look back the history of violence against journalists in Somalia, whenever Islamist groups gain power, they attack journalists and women. That is why you see increased violence and hatred on the media and the women,” said Hussein Mohamed, SIU University lecturer and historian based in Mogadishu.
Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (AIAI) is an Islamist militant organization founded in opposition to the Siad Barre regime, formed from an assortment of various Wahhabi groups. It took a strong political and military stance against Ethiopia and sought to regain Ethiopia’s Ogaden region for Somalia. Some members of the AIAI leadership emerged as prominent leaders in the Islamic Courts Union, including Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, while others would reappear later as leaders within al-Shabaab, such as Ahmed Abdi Godane. However, other prominent members such as Hamze Abdi Barre made their way to the politics through educational institutions.
Al-Shabaab, a remnant of the defunct Union of Islamic Courts in 2007, have also ‘banned’ the media from reporting on government operations, which means journalists may routinely be targeted for reporting on the national forces’ successes.