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Somali journalist stays at work in spite of threats and attacks from al-Shabaab

HELSINGIN SANOMAT
By Pekka Hakala and Kai Sinervo
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
     

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It is nearly two PM in the Somali capital Mogadishu. Radio Mogadishu journalist Abdimohad Hussein, alias Abtidoon, has just wrapped up his noon current affairs programme, and the station is broadcasting heeso – a unique style of Somali pop music.

Abtidoon’s colleague Hasan Mohamed Abiikar, or Hassan Malodye, go through their notes in the air-conditioned studio. He is known to his listeners simply as Hassan. The listeners know their radio voices better by their given names.

"I am no longer afraid of anything, because I know that each of us has his time", says 37-year-old Hassan.
     
Hassan’s way of looking at life took a dramatic turn two years ago when he want to pray one evening at the Agoye Mosque, which is located about 20 kilometres west of the centre of Mogadishu. Two unknown men started to follow the journalist on his way home from the mosque.

When Hassan reached his front door at about 7:30, two masked men appeared. They pulled out pistols and opened fire on him.

Hassan was struck by four bullets. The most dangerous wound of them all grazed the bones below his neck. One hit is wrist, another hit his arm and one got him in the leg. He was conscious the whole time as he was rushed to the Dynile Hospital midway between Mogadishu and Agoye.
     
There was no doubt as to who the assailants were. This was the work of the Islamist al-Shabaab movement. At the time Deynile was under the control of al-Shabaab, but in spite of that, the movement’s gunmen did not dare enter the hospital to finish their job.

After a few days Hassan’s boss managed to persuade a taxi driver to take Hassan from Deynile to another hospital in the seaside area of Mogadishu, which was tenuously in the hands of the government. He had to pay 550 dollars for the taxi ride.

Hassan returned to work after an absence of five months, to the encouragement of his colleagues.
     
"The psychological injuries were much worse than the clinical ones", Hassan says. "I constantly have nightmares."

So what was it that Hassan did that was so bad that he ended up as a target of al-Shabaab?
     
"I selected news for Radio Mogadishu."
     
As is the case in many parts of Africa, the radio is the most important media outlet in Somalia. The state-run Radio Mogadishu was set up by the Italian colonial administration in 1951. In the early part of Somalia’s independence, the Soviet Union offered its technology to the broadcaster.

A real stroke of luck came to the radio unexpectedly in the autumn of 1977 when four Palestinian terrorists hijacked a Lufthansa flight en route from Mallorca to Frankfurt. The Boeing 737 and the 86 German tourists on board ended up at Mogadishu Airport.

Somali commandos working together with West German special forces freed the hostages and killed the hijackers. Bonn showed its gratitude and Hassan and his colleagues are still working in a studio building donated by the Germans.
     
A serious setback occurred in 1992 when warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid, who had come into conflict with the Americans, seized the studio and proclaimed his truth into the ether. It took plenty of work to repair the damage caused by US bombs.
     
In the early 2000s the Somali government, with the support of the international community, took the station back under its control. Since then, al-Shabaab, which became the main resistance group in 2006, has hated the station like the plague. In addition to the broadcasting of uncensored news, the radio has angered the Islamists by playing heeso love songs as bombings were taking place.

A couple of years ago Radio Mogadishu was given control of the new state-run television, SNTV.

"The government pays, but we are in the service of the people", says Liban Ali Nur
     
The eight studios of Radio Mogadishu are now shared by the radio and television. There are about 60 journalists and many work both for TV and radio.

The most important distribution medium for the TV programming is the internet. The radio broadcasts can be heard on the FM dial in the Mogadishu area, as well as on the internet and on satellite throughout the country.

"Two journalists have died in my time", says Liban, who has been with the station for two years. In April six journalists of the radio and television were injured in a bomb attack at the opening of the national theatre.
     
But Radio Mogadishu will not be silenced. In addition, its journalists include women, regardless of the direction of the wind.

"Yes, I am in a profession that I have dreamed about for years", says one female journalist, Ilham Alsalam Barre, as she was leaving to do an interview. She admits that the work is difficult at times. In some places, women cannot get away with asking the same kinds of questions as men can.

"There are places where you don’t know if you will get back in one piece."



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