Ethiopian Involvement in Somalia’s Media War
February 10, 2011 5 Comments
Mogadishu is a constantly changing landscape. In the course of the battle for this ancient port city, battle lines are often drawn and erased, defence posts erected and demolished, allegiances formed and severed, and more soldiers trained to damage and destroy. But while the interminable gun battles continue to temporarily transform the territorial gains of the opposing forces on the ground, it is the battle on the airwaves that will eventually define the final outcome of the war.
The battle is now in the airwaves and words are sometimes deadlier than the bullets. Soldiers’ confessions, government rebuttals, fervent Islamist lectures, Jihadi Nasheeds, information leaks and an overdose of carefully packaged propaganda, however infelicitous it may seem at times, appears to be the order of the day. Where one particular frequency bolsters the government’s voice and demonizes the actions of the Islamists, the other plays Jihadi tunes and sermons by senior Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, glorifying Jihad and Martyrdom for the creation of an Islamic Caliphate. And as a result of the ongoing political pandemonium across the country, it has become rather difficult to find an impartial voice – detached from the political process.
Al-Shabab, the Islamists controlling majority of the country, have recently stepped up their media campaign. Al-Kataib Foundation for Media Production, the rather sophisticated Media wing of the Islamists, has recently launched a terrestrial TV channel in Mogadishu to complement their steady stream of video productions. The channel’s pilot began with the confessions of a former CIA spy recently executed by the Islamists and reaches as far as Ceelasha Biyaha and Afgooye.
The Somali government, on the other hand, having been ineffective on the ground, has recently stepped up its propaganda campaign too. News stories, on-air drama series and, well, rather implausible ‘facts’ – distinctively characterized by derision – are often reiterated on the airwaves in order to influence the opinions of the masses. But these radio broadcasts do not often appeal to all audiences in the same manner, so the race is on for the opposing sides to sway public opinion to their side. Ethiopia has now also joined the race too.
The Ethiopian Involvement:
Recently the Ethiopian government has reopened its embassy in Mogadishu and named Abdi Aziz Ahmed Adan as its ambassador. Upon arrival, one of the few priorities of the Ethiopian ambassador was to establish a powerful radio station to counter the growing influence of the extremist ideology of Al-Shabab that is sweeping across the Horn.
According to sources very close to the Prime Minister, Abdi Aziz has had a closed meeting with PM Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmaajo’ and discussed the urgent need for a new media strategy to counter the pervasive Al-Shabab threat and belief. The Ethiopian ambassador then passed his proposal for a new radio station in Mogadishu to the prime Minister, which was quickly affirmed after brief discussions. The new radio station, which would officially be known as KULMIYE, (or even Kulmis or Kulmiso as the name hasn’t been finalised yet) would be fully funded by the Ethiopian regime and would fall under the supervision of the Ethiopian embassy here in Mogadishu.
It is said that Abdi Aziz personally requested that the radio station be situated near the Ethiopian Embassy so as to monitor it carefully and direct its programs; the PM agreed. It is a battle of ideas and the prime objective of the new KULMIYE radio station, as mentioned by the ambassador, is to curb the far-reaching ideology of the Islamists. This can be done, he said, by demonizing them. The name KULMIYE, however, bears a very close similarity with KULMIS. The latter, of course, is the insurgent group trained and funded by Ethiopia during the 1980s and led by Abdullahi Yusuf. KULMIS was a result of a merger between Abdullahi Yusuf’s SSDF, the SNM and some Saleeban tribes in the middle regions. In the light of these revelations, KULMIYE, as a name of a radio station owned and funded by the Ethiopian regime, could understandably have some serious implications.
Today the Ethiopian ambassador is in the process of recruiting the most vocal presenters in town and KULMIYE is expected to hit the airwaves in the coming days…
Ethiopia has for long been heavily involved in the Somali politics, both politically and militarily, but with the advent of a new Ethiopian-owned radio station in Mogadishu, it appears that Ethiopia is now even more concerned about the threat posed by a neighbouring Islamist-ruled Somalia. Thus, after having failed to obstruct the Islamists’ advance militarily, the Ethiopian regime has now joined the media war. While Ethiopian involvement in Somali politics has long been apparent, particularly in Mogadishu and as well as the Central regions of Somalia where they train and equip the Sufi militia in order to steer the Islamists off their borders, it is the first time that Ethiopia has used the media as a weapon in their battle against Al-Shabab. In a city filled with news-hungry residents and a country driven by an ever-changing political landscape, the media plays a very important part of life in Somalia. There are several radio stations in Mogadishu, but the most prominent among them are:
BBC: The BBC has a very wide audience in the Somali Diaspora and acts as one of the few sources of information regarding their homeland, but with the growing bias in its reporting and partisan politics, much of that audience has had to find an alternative. Here in Mogadishu, BBC’s FM transmitters have been seized by Al-Shabab and people listen to it through the SW band. The BBC Somali Service is and has always been biased and it is often termed ‘Beenta Beesha caalamka’ or ‘Lies of the international Community’. In the battle for Mogadishu, the BBC has taken the side of the Somali government and the reporting often focuses heavily or tries to brandish and portray every little accomplishment of the TFG as a milestone.
VOA (Voice of America): I asked one local journalist one evening as he listened to the VOA news service about the trustworthiness of their content. ‘It is America’s global mouthpiece on America’s war on terror’ he replied. Another reporter criticized it heavily for its bias and accused it of being medievally tribal-minded. His criticism, however, is not unfounded, for it is generally accepted among the Somalis that tribalism plays an important factor in Hawiye-owned VOA’s recruitment, political perspective and dissemination of news. Several reporters including Ali Xaraare, Fatxiya Absiiye, Abdisalaan Salwa who all happen to be non-hawiye were made redundant, as they later acknowledged, because of tribe-related issues.
Abdiraxman Aynte also left for Al-jazeera English shortly after that.
Bar-Kulan: Bar-Kulan is the latest station to hit Mogadishu’s airwaves. Headquartered in Nairobi and fully funded by the UN, Bar-Kulan began working in Mogadishu early 2010 and has been constantly airing programs and reports that attempt to bolster the dying image of the African Union troops in Mogadishu.
Shabeelle: Shabeelle began its work in Lower Shabeelle, particularly Marka, and then moved to Mogadishu. Settling in the busy Bakara market, Shabelle aired news broadcasts that it alleged were ‘fair’, ‘independent’ and not aligned with any particular group. But after the Islamists banned music to be aired on the airwaves, Shabeelle relocated – moving from its base in Bakara market and resettling a few metres from the airport. After relocation, much of Shabeelle’s reporting has changed drastically.The news reports by Shabeelle are now largely unreliable and untrustworthy, and despite living in government-controlled territory, many people are still confused as to whose side Shabeelle really supports.
IQK: Short for Idaacada Quraanka Kariimka or The Holy Qur’an Station, IQK is owned and operated by Al-Shabab Islamists. Previously IQK was owned by several businessmen, including Dahir Maxamud Geele – the Information Minister in Sharmarke’s cabinet. After reaching an agreement with the owners, Al-Shabab took over the station during Ramadan 2010; becoming the first Al-Shabab-owned radio station in Mogadishu. IQK quickly introduced new terminologies previously unheard of in any media outlet. E.g. it describes the Somali government as an ‘apostate group’ and Sheikh Sharif as ‘Sharif Murtad ’ or ‘Sharif the Apostate’ and the Amisom forces as the ‘African Crusaders’
Radio Muqdisho: with calls for the Islamists to be ‘killed wherever found’ and ‘massacre the Khawarij’, Radio Muqdisho is in Somalia what Radio Mille Collines was in Rwanda. Owned by the Somali government and heavily guarded by the Amisom forces, Radio Muqdisho began working in October 2009. It should not be mistaken for the highly popular national radio – Radio Muqdisho – during the Siyad Barre regime. Used primarily as a government outlet to air anti-Al-Shabab views and opinions, Radio Muqdisho is headed by Abdiraxiim Ciise Cadow – who was formally a spokesman for a group within the UIC during 2008-9. Though it appeared to be coherent during it initial phase, Radio Muqdisho has now lost credibility as most of the news they disseminate often turns out to be quite the opposite. Last year the station reported that Al-Shabab leader Mukhtar Abu Mansoor was killed by the government soldiers, three days later Abu Mansoor was heard giving a sermon at one of the mosques in Al-Shabab controlled territory. A few months later, they declared that a major rift had surfaced among the Al-Shabaab ranks, in an attempt to sow the seeds of dissent among their soldiers, now it turns out that not only are the hardline Islamists still united but that they have also gobbled up other weaker Islamist factions such as Hizbul Islam.
Most of the listeners of Radio Muqdisho are young adults or teenagers with a passion for Somali music. The memorable melodies and the romantic songs that are aired on Radio Muqdisho have found some attentive ears among some of Mogadishu’s youth. The station is the only one that constantly plays Somali music, as all the other stations have complied with the Islamists ban on music. Radio Muqdisho, however, cannot be taken seriously when it discusses politics or at news hour.
Radio Al-Furqaan: In mid-2009 a new form of radio station surfaced; an Islamic radio station. With Qur’an and Islamic songs as jingles and constant Islamic lectures, Al-Furqan brought about a new flair to Mogadishu. Within a few months the radio station was flourishing into a major player. Though thought to be leaning towards the Islamists, Al-Furqan enjoys a very wide audience within the government-controlled territory and often features ministers and parliamentarians in its shows.
One of the most interesting aspects about Al-Furqan is that it serves as a platform for many of the government ministers to air their discontent and disillusionment with the government’s ineffectiveness. These ministers cannot air their views on the government’s Radio Muqdisho, so Al-Furqan offers them an alternative.
There are also several other radio stations that are aired in Mogadishu but due to their soft approach to politics and lack of a clear political stance in the battle for Mogadishu – their presence is hardly felt at all and do not have the ability to manipulate and/or influence public opinion to a great degree. They include:
- Radio Banaadir
- Codka Nabada:
- VOD (voice of Democracy)
The media war here in Mogadishu is not simply a subtle, persuasive appeal to emotion and intellect, but rather crude approach driven by hate. But while the mortars and rockets remain silent for now, it is still unclear whether the reverberations caused by the battle in the airwaves would bring about the intended results or whether the sound carried by the airwaves is more menacing than the thunderous noise of mortars on the ground.