Ethiopian Involvement in Somalia’s Media War

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.

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Exclusive Pics: Al-Shabaab & the BBC

I’ve gained these exclusive pictures of Al-Shabaab confiscating BBC equipment through a local journalist. Click on the images to enlarge.

Al-Shabaab Silences The BBC

Al-Shabaab has banned the BBC from operating in Southern Somalia. In a press release read out this morning here in Mogadishu, the Islamic Administrations in Mogadishu, Marka, Kismayo, Jowhar and Bidoa have taken all of BBC’s FM transmitters off the air and seized all their property. The statement described the organisation as a ‘vile western mouthpiece’ propagating ‘a barrage of depraved Western views’ to the unsuspecting Muslim population.

The air seems somewhat strange and silent here in Mogadishu. The renowned BBC tone is no longer on the radios and the public is buzzing with discussion and debate. HornAfrik radio which used to air the Somali Service apologised to the public on newshour. Al-Shabaab have also issued an order to HornAfrik, the only radio station that airs VOA news, to stop airing its programs.

Al-Shabaab’s daring display of authority comes at a time when majority of the Somali listeners have been expressing great concerns about the BBC’s management and editorial content. The BBC Somali Service has been riddled with complaints from the Somali media and the public alike.

Al-Shabaab, which has been banned as an organisation in Britain has struck back fiercely and banned the BBC, accusing it of inaccuracy, impartiality, lack of objectivity, propagation of Western views and fanning the flames of enmity among the Somali population. Some of these accusations, however, are coming not only from the Islamists but some professional and journalists have also voiced somewhat similar opinions.

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