Mogadishu’s Media War
February 28, 2011 2 Comments
When Mogadishu is often described as one of the world’s most dangerous places, it is not merely an understatement. No amount of coverage or depiction would do justice to the horrors that persistently lay siege to this city’s wear population. And the assault, this time, is not only on the ground.
More than one week into the intense battles that had crippled Mogadishu’s residents and the rivals’ radio stations could no longer contain their fury. Mogadishu’s battle is being fought on the airwaves. The target: The Minds of Mogadishans. With information and misinformation, scathing remarks, alarming threats and the rapid rattle of a machine-gun fire for jingles, the airwaves are waging a deadly psychological warfare in order to sculpt the minds of the residents, thereby transforming the battle’s prospects.
What I find rather staggering, however, is the how far each party is willing to go to in order update the local population about the Mogadishu battles according to their version of events. The government’s vociferous Radio Muqdisho (90 MHz) had dispatched some of its reporters to the front lines. Embedded with the AMISOM troops, the Radio Muqdisho reporters transmit their reports via a telephone. A few days into the battle and the station claimed to have built a new make-shift station ‘inside’ the Ministry of Defense compound where some AMISOM soldiers from the Burundian contingent were said to have been besieged by the Islamists.
Al-Shabab’s Jihad-inspired IQK radio station (102.50 MHz) has also been in an upbeat mood since the battles escalated in the capital. Two of the station’s reporters were constantly conveying messages and reports to their listeners from the front lines. With the loud chants of the Al-Shabab fighters in the background and the intermittent sound of gunfire, the reporters spent several days in the battle – relaying every raid and every encounter with AU troops as it occurred.
Reports and analyses from both stations were accompanied by call-in shows where the residents voiced their opinions. This weighed in heavily in terms of public opinion. Al-Shabab’s call-in shows are particularly interesting, with young men calling in to enlist their services and women donating their wealth and possessions to the fighters so that they may ‘continue their Jihad against the Christian Crusaders and their apostate allies.’
This morning I tuned in to the radio stations, as I usually do every morning, but found that the voices and terminology being used were somewhat incongruent with the stations’ usual tone. For example Radio Muqdisho’s frequency (90.0 MHz) was playing loud Jihadi Nasheeds that called for Heaven and Martyrdom instead of the classic Somali tunes and the bitter invective against Al-Shabab. IQK (102.50 MHz), on the other hand, played some patriotic Somali songs that called for the enemy to be ousted and encouraged Somalis to sacrifice their souls for the blue flag. I was little puzzled before local journalists informed me that both stations were trying to hijack each other’s frequencies.
Al-Shabab, however, is far deemed ahead of its rivals when it comes to swaying public opinion to their side. The Islamists already own a Terrestrial TV channel, run by the Islamists’ Media arm, Al-Kataib Foundation for Media Production. The sophisticated graphics, high-quality images, and superior production have attracted and seduced a huge chunk of the population, even in government-controlled areas. The Somali government, having perceived the wave of support Al-Kataib TV is getting, is now said to be acquiring a terrestrial channel to counter what it calls the ‘malignant disease’ of Al-Shabab.
What the battle on the airwaves has done, however, is raise the stakes in Mogadishu’s conflict even higher.