Problems in the VOA-Somali Service

At the beginning of the Voice Of America-Somali program, Somalis in the Diaspora and back home were very enthusiastic about the radio service. From the start expectations were very high, particularly as US foreign policy toward Africa has taken a new course in the last few years, following suspected al-Qaeda efforts to establish itself in East and Central Africa. 

But now it appears that this media institution has been diverted from its original purpose. Regular listeners are not surprised to hear news dominated by events in Mogadishu, but are routinely frustrated by the evident bias and selectiveness of the news coverage. VOA-Somali Service reporters inside Mogadishu report new explosions and violence in the city, yet, considering the casualty figures reported by other independent news media, the sources seem to be inventing unfounded stories that seem intended to destabilize the UN and US-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and lead to increased tensions.

Most recently, the official spokesman for the TFG Ministry of Information appeared on the broadcast, angrily accusing VOA reporters in Mogadishu of such misconduct. In the interview, the minister described how the Mogadishu militia deployed fireworks to mimic mortar explosions, and criticized the role the media is playing under these circumstances.

The deposed Islamists in Somalia, the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), are once again starting to re-organize with the help of local clan sympathizers, and are succeeding in twisting the media, misleading the Somali people. Like Al-Qaeda, a principal component of UIC's strength has been the use of media organizations, such as the BBC-Somali Service, Horn-Afrik, Capital Voice, STN TV, Shabelle, and different Somali websites, to promote their terror campaign and spread disinformation.

The VOA-Somali Service, an establishment created to serve the interests of the Somali public with news and information, and presumably to promote US foreign policy in the region (since it is funded by US taxpayers), has been turned into an in -house propaganda tool against the TFG and now advances the interests of the al-Qaeda-backed UIC. 

Like its predecessor, BBC-Somali, the VOA Somali Service is dominated by UIC supporters. Individuals such as Abdi Yabarow, Mohamed Haydara, Mohamed Hussein Shiine, and Asha Ibrahim Uud, are well known hardcore supporters of the UIC, and their presence in the service is only serving the Islamic terrorist cause in Somalia.

For instance, on June 13, 2007, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ms. Jendayi Frazer, was interviewed by Mohamed Shiine of VOA-Somali. Ms. Frazer was very bold and straightforward articulating the US foreign policy toward the Horn of Africa. However, since the interview was conducted in the English language, translation into Somali was necessary, and that task was carried out by Mr. Shiine and Asha Ibrahim themselves. The interview aired next day with some responses to Jendayi's comments.

However, the interview was totally mistranslated. For example, when Ms. Jendayi said, "the leadership of the TFG has to make changes," her statement was mistranslated as, in the Somali version, "the top leadership of the TFG has to go." As a result, many Somalis in the community were outraged by the deliberately misleading acts of these individuals; and although the VOA issued apology a few days later, after receiving multiple complaints, appropriate action was never taken against these perpetrators. Another problem is that VOA administrators have seemed to ignore EEOC principles as they have hired members of only one clan (Hawiye) closely allied with the UIC to the service. This must be corrected.

Community Concerns

Echoing these concerns about the preferential treatment afforded to a particular Somali clan with extensive ties to the UIC, one leader of the Washington DC-area Somali community, Mohamed Jama, recently wrote to Ato Nagussie, the VOA Somali Program Director, stating,

Though created most recently, the VOA Somali Service is following the footsteps of the BBC Somali Service. For a period close to one year, the VOA Somali has been in the air waves -- broadcasting unbalanced, selective, and exaggerated field-reports. There are many similarities with the BBC-Somali -- almost all the Somali staff employed at the VOA, namely "Somali Evening Edition," had originally worked for the BBC Somali Service. Some famous names include: Mohamed Haydara, Cabdiraxmaan Yabarow, Cabdisalaan Harari, Ahmed Awke, and few other BBC expatriate junior staff members. The daily VOA Somali Broadcast is predominantly about Mogadishu conflict, and its news terminology always flow the same pattern as the BBC Somali: explosions, UIC vs. TFG, Ethiopian intervention, selected interviews with terrorists, and other distasteful pre-recorded interviews. The recent removal of Mr. Abdullah, the only neutral and non-BBC former employee also raised our suspicion even further.

On the face of it, it does appear that recruits for VOA Somali service are coming predominantly from one clan. There is suspicion that they are receiving unfair advantage through masterful networking and other techniques. The case of the stringers in the field is particularly telling. It is alleged that highly qualified applicants were somehow eliminated, while others with limited aptitude have been selected.

Nobody I know believes that you, Mr. Negussie, would stoop to the level of seeking recruits from one Somali clan at the expense of another. However, clan-oriented, Somali insiders who do not play by the rules have other ways of gaming the system, especially when is at least one willing cooperator, as is widely believed, at the supervisory and management levels.
Artistic embarrassment

In the following picture by the famous Somali artist Amin Amir, we see illustrated the widely-held sentiment against the biased information the VOA Somali is providing. This picture shows Mr. Yusuf Indhacadde, one of the most wanted terrorist suspects in Somalia, speaking to the VOA Somali Service in Washington, saying, "Yeah! Yeah! This is Indhacadde, I am in Somalia, I am talking to you from my Mogadishu residence." The little boy walking by asks his father, "Look! There is Sheikh in the container, what is he doing in there?" The father replies, "No! That is not Sheikh; that is the big satin ‘Indhacadde,' who was behind the suffering of many Somalis, talking to the VOA in an interview. Oh! Now-a-days, the VOA has become a meaningless broadcast."

Somali cartoon


Media involvement in the Somalia clan politics is very dangerous, and the recent assassinations of nine journalists indicate the level of violence directed at the independent Somali media. These killings were not random, and the blood bath continues unprovoked, including the more than fifteen Western journalists gunned down inside Somalia.

Clearly, the VOA-Somali daily broadcast serves as a moral high ground for the al-Qaeda-backed terrorist insurgency in Mogadishu, with or without the knowledge of the VOA administration. Irrespective of the VOA's complicity, this situation demands immediate correction. Eventually, this kind of coverage favorable to the defeated Islamic terrorists will further escalate the instability in the country. Therefore, Somali-Americans are calling upon the VOA authority to use US taxpayer dollars in a better way, if the program objectives are to succeed and US foreign policy objectives in the Horn of Africa are to be promoted in the region.

Abdirahman Warsame is the Executive Director of the Terror Free Somalia Foundation.
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