Death of a “Fantastic” Journalist
By Heikal I. Kenneded
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
The recent cold-blooded killing of journalist Hassan Omar Abdi, widely known as Hassan Fantastic underscores once more how dire things are in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. The city has become synonymous with the most perilous place in the world to work as a journalist, 25 journalists have died since 2007. Truth – whether spoken or written has become the most precarious commodity in the capital, as the threat of those who dare to tell it grows. It is a world where free speech is punished with acts of assassination, instead of recrimination. Across Somalia, violent attacks against journalists and other media professionals are rampant, but those in Mogadishu face unparalleled threat of their extinction.
Hassan Fantastic was the director of much respected Shebelle Media Network and he was committed to speak truth to power, despite the constant harassment and threat from both government officials and the Al-Shabab militants. His private news outlet was at the forefront of chronicling the terrorist activities of Al-Shabab and investigating the corruption plagued Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
The tragic the death of Hassan Fantastic was the third managing director of the Shabelle Media Network to be killed and now he joins them in grave. It was reported that he was shot by two unidentified masked men wearing the Somali military uniform. The motives, however, are uncertain and the perpetrators may have been incensed by some piece reported by the journalist, who tirelessly worked to report about the TFG’s calamitous corruption and the precipitous downfall of Al-Shabab. Though most of his colleagues reportedly believe that Hassan Fantastic’s murder was mysteriously linked to his role in reporting on the political crisis in Somalia and on the TFG’s corruption, yet there’s no prove. This allegation is partly due to his most recent investigative journalism exposé that related to a corruption case by a senior level TFG official, Said Ali Moalin of Mogadishu’s port director. He was recently discharged from his post due to corruption related to food aid.
Of course, I didn’t know personally Hassan Fantastic, but I could vicariously identify and sympathize with him through friends and acquaintances that I met in Cape Town, South Africa. When the dreadful death of Hassan Fantastic was first broadcasted throughout the international media and my initial reaction was “Not Again!” That same evening, I coincidently met with several young self-exiled Somali journalists in South Africa who were taping a condolence piece for Universal TV. They unequivocally condemned the assassination of Hassan Fantastic and promised to step up to the plate by continuing his important work. The sadness coupled with furious anger in the faces of these half-dozen young men was palpable and touching at the same time. As one after another passed the microphone, they commended the heroism work accomplished by their bereaved colleague, Hassan Fantastic. His investigative journalism was hailed as the most vocal critic of both Al-Shabab, as well as the TFG’s alleged rampant corruption and incompetence.
Fearing for their safety and security, many of these Somali journalists are now living in self-imposed exile in South Africa, where they face increasing xenophobic violence. Nevertheless, these young and courageous Somali journalists, broadcasters, reporters, bloggers, media owners, communication professional are the epitome of what could be right in Somalia and need our unfettered support. Undeterred, they report day- in and day-out from the front lines of war-ravaged Somalia in order to shed light and bring awareness to the injustices carried out by those in control. Somalis in the Diaspora need to show great solidarity with these rare breed of “True” journalists whose patriotism is on par to those of Somali Youth League (SYL) members during colonialism. Ironically, a great majority of these journalists grew up in Somalia during the civil war and they have never known an effective central government, or the “nostalgic” heydays of the Somali nation state.
Finally, as most Somalis get ready for the upcoming London Conference on Somalia, they must keep in mind that peace and stability in the country will always be an elusive thing, as long as violence against journalists in the country is continued with impunity for those responsible. Despite all of the brouhaha as of late that Mogadishu has been pacified from the Al-Shabab terrorists, it would avail to nothing until the city’s journalists are capable of reporting the news as freely as their other counterparts around the world. Currently, the only option for the remaining journalists in the capital is to protect themselves by arming themselves, and to prod the Somali government backed by African Union forces to do the same in their targeted media houses. It will be very difficult undertaking, but it has to be done.
Hassan Osman Abdi (Fantastic) was 29 years old and leaves a wife, two young daughters and a son - Allah might protect them. Amen.