By Adan H Iman
The feud between Somaliland’s Rayale administration and Haatuf News has produced two victims: (1) the editors of Haatuf News who have been unlawfully incarcerated and (2) the first lady and her sisters whose reputation were ferociously attacked by Haatuf News based on evidence that is at best non-incriminating. Let us examine this in greater detail.
First the incarceration of the editors: No reasonable person would buy that writing a story, no matter how offensive its contents are, is a crime. The Somaliland constitution protects the freedom of the press. If the Rayale administration has a grievance against a published material, the right thing to do is to hire a private attorney and litigate the case in civil court before an impartial judge. It is a mistake to use public resources to prosecute the case. It is wrong to throw editor- in-chief Yusuf Gabobe and his editor Ali Abdi Dini and reporter Mohamed Omar in jail. They have already been subjected to the indignities of a jail for nearly three weeks. Those three journalists do not pose any threat to the public. Their incarceration is inhumane and an assault on the freedom of the press. They should be given their freedom immediately and the government must never again respond published material with such vindictiveness.
A comment made by Ali Mazrui may be enlightening. When he was teaching at Makerere University in the 1960s, he wrote an article critical to the Mobote Regime in local papers. President Milton became furious about the article and called the political science professor into his office. Mazrui later remarked why the head of state would be so annoyed with few words scribbled by a professor; why did not he just toss into the dust bin and forgot about the whole thing. The fact is African leaders are very sensitive about criticisms. But Somaliland is democracy and public officials must learn to live with criticisms even if its not accurate.
The other victim of this saga is the first lady Huda and her sisters at the hands of Haatuf News which accused them of financial improprieties. The evidence against those ladies was, and some still, posted at www.haatuf.net.
There were two items, now removed, that relate to the elder sister of first lady, Saada. The first is a notarized receipt indicating that Saada purchased a used vehicle for $15,000. The other is an undeveloped piece of land. By the way, Saada Barkhad is indeed Dr. Saada Barkhad Adan who finished her doctorate in Nutrition from Oklahoma State University at Stillwater in the mid eighties. Her husband Dr Omar Ibrahim Hussein also earned a doctorate in economics from the same university at around the same time. To the best of my knowledge, there is no other couple in Somaliland who have attained the same level of academic achievement as Dr. Saada and her husband. Dr. Omar worked for Abu Dhabi Fund as an economist for 20 years. Dr. Saada worked for the World Health Organization. This couple achieved financial success and security long before Mr. Rayale entered national politics just nine years ago. Haatuf news did not disclose this exculpatory evidence, which clearly shows this couple had the financial wherewithal to buy undeveloped piece of land and a used vehicle and much, much more. Haatuf news has regrettably rendered Dr. Saada an adjunct or appendage of Mr. Rayale.
There is a picture, also now removed, of the vegetable and fruit farm left behind by the late Barkhad Adan.The caption under the farm states “land seized by Huda Barkhad from Amoud University to expand the farm”. This farm existed since the days of the British colonial administration. Colonial policies relating to land uses mandated that private properties not be situated or constructed near school premises. The farm is located adjacent to the dry river way east of the campus. Any body who visited that farm will tell you the same thing. There is no way that the farm can expand to the premise of the campus.
Diasporic Somalilanders, who earn moderate incomes, go back home and buy expensive real estate without raising an eyebrow. What is a big deal about a successful couple with PhDs buying a used vehicle and an undeveloped piece of land? Haatuf news must learn from this experience and never publish an article questioning the integrity of an individual without double checking with even the concerned person to get another version of the story. There is peaceful competition for political power in Somaliland. Journalists must be careful not to be used by one group or the other.
It is important to note that reporting in general entails interpretation of human activities. This interpretation is suffused with the bias and prejudices of the writers. Journalists need to make a clear distinction between public officials and private citizens. Indeed the challenge facing Somaliland legislators is to balance freedom of the press and privacy rights of individuals. The best course is to have a high threshold for reporters to be held liable in covering about public officials in order to give the press more leeway to deter malfeasance while lowering the threshold in writing about, and to give more privacy to, private citizens. The fact of the matter is that a liberal constitutional democratic system of government does not give journalists a license to thrash private citizens when there is no solid justification.
The evidence presented by Haatuf News does not show any financial improprieties on the part of the first lady and her family. Allegation the first lady built her house on a street in Borama has no merit because Borama is a city where land use policies are non-existent or not enforced , where people easily obtain municipal permits to build homes at any vacant nook and corner even if is the playground of the elementary school. This is the rule and not the exception. Other allegations such as used vehicles and the family farm in existence since the colonial days have also no merit. In neither cases have the first lady nor her sisters deviated from the ordinary human behavior.
As we distress over the unlawful incarceration of the three journalists, we must also be hurt by the manner in which the first lady and her sisters are debased based on evidence that is at best non-incriminating. I hope others will join me in calling upon the Somaliland government to release the journalists immediately and for Haatuf news to desist and cease its defamation of innocent private citizens. It is time to put this family feud to an end.
Adan H Iman, Los Angeles
Email: [email protected]