Profiles: International coverage of Somalia

Kenya and Canada can boast of some of the best coverage of Somalia told by young and courageous journalists bent on investigative and independent reporting from one of the most dangerous places on earth. 

Fatuma Noor, 24, Kenyan-Somali journalist

Noor won the “2011 CNN African Journalist of the Year” award for her investigative three-part series on the Al-Shabaab in Star newspaper. The articles tell the story of the young men who give up their freedom abroad to return and fight for the Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Noor is a renowned journalist, who has won many awards in a young age. She currently works for The Observer as part of a David Astor Journalism Programme, which works to promote independent journalism in Africa.

As a Somali woman writing investigative stories, Noor faces regular threats and her own family oppose her profession. According to Noor, in Somali culture, it is wrong to speak and raise an opinion in front of men. Even travelling for work unaccompanied by a relative is not permitted.

Jay Bahadur, 27, author of “The Pirates of Somalia”

The Toronto-based freelance journalist recently published the book “The Pirates of Somalia”, which is based on three months of research in Puntland – an autonomous region of Somalia and the heart of the pirates’ tribal homeland.

For a foreigner, his access to the region was truly unique. Bahadur brilliantly juggles background stories, gossip, family ties, backroom political dealings and daily impressions of life in Somalia.

Recently, Bahadur landed the job as the Managing Editor at SomaliaReport – a Nairobi-based website with an extensive network of local journalists, which aims to be Somalia’s premiere source for non-partisan and clan-neutral news coverage.

Bashir Yusuf Osman, Somali Hotel owner

Situated in the heart of Mogadishu, the Peace Hotel serves as the accommodation of choice for most foreign journalists visiting the capital. BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera. They all come here. The hotel is like a white flag in city torn by battles between different militias.

The owner, Bashir Yusuf Osman arranges professional security teams for every journalist. The importance of having a good security team cannot be overstated in this lawless city. Several journalists have been targeted or killed in or around other Mogadishu hotels in the past.

Osman is also able to fix meetings with anyone and everyone, from the militant Shabaab fighters to local businessmen to the parliament members of the transitional government. Ironically perhaps, it is the civil war that may be the key to the success of Bashir’s business.

From Somalia to Denmark and back

I have long wished to visit Somalia for three main reasons: It is my place of birth, I am a journalist and I sense great opportunity. Somalia is in the midst of forming a government and I for one would love to witness the process first hand.

My place of birth

The inevitable first question that Somalis ask one another when they meet is: “What is your qabil?”. Qabil means ‘clan’ and it has nearly always been the defining charateristic for Somali people.

Whenever I am asked this question, I always respond with: “I was born in Mogadishu”. In my opinion, the question of qabil in my case is utter nonsense. I have nearly spent 22 years in Denmark. And so my clan means absolutely nothing to me.

Instead, I like to say, that my mom is related to the popular singer Ahmed Nagi. Or that my grandfather worked for the Somali government in Mogadishu back in the 80s. Or that I once lived in the city of Medina, not far from where you could buy or sell gold.

My mother and I, age 3, in the woods of Afgooye

I am a journalist 

I might as well admit it. I have aspirations of becoming a foreign correspondent. I am passionate about exploring new ways of communication and interacting with people of different cultures.

As the only Danish journalist of Somalian descent (that I know of), I have a personal stake in the crisis Somalia is engulfed in. I have a remarkable opportunity to gather valuable information about the conflict that might advance the Danish policy in Somalia.


With my multicultural background I have the ability to take the reporting of the conflict to a whole new dimension. The Danish journalist population is still very homogeneous and can only benefit from this.

I sense great opportunity

Under the rule of former president Siad Barre, which my mom wholeheartedly supported, it was considered anathema to the purpose of a modern state to ask questions about ones clan. Somalis began to pointedly ask, “What is your ex-clan?”

On a symbolic level, the sort of transformation that Siad Barre envisioned for his people was to abandon clanism – that “whom do you know?” be changed with “what do you know?”. This sort of reasoning is much more in line with my frame of mind.

With the new roadmap in place, there is a great opportunity for the Somali people to overcome their differences in terms of clanism. Many might argue qabil did not cause the crisis in Somalia, but the question of qabil should never be an issue for any Somali. Period.




Not just a journalist, but a peacemaker

The many dangers faced by journalists in conflict areas such as Somalia force us to consider whether it is worth the risk to cover these areas. Nevertheless, the role of the journalist as a peacemaker demands assignments to war and other danger zones.  

Why travel to Somalia?

Since 1992, 34 journalists have been killed in Somalia in direct relation to their work, making this conflict-ridden country one of the deadliest countries in the world for reporters. But does this mean that reporters should stop reporting from Somalia?

One important argument is that news media play a key factor in conflict resolution efforts. One first needs to be aware of something before public opinion is created and the proper authorities are compelled to ‘do something’.

This argument is closely related to the ability of journalists to investigate and report. A trait which is often referred to as ‘freedom of the press’. Without it, the public is deprived of their right to know and therefore of their ability to excise power.

Reporting global issues

Events such as terrorism, humanitarian disasters and war in other parts of the world impact national security in such a way that global agendas are created. Some push for global solutions. Others look for regional solutions and some prefer national or even local solutions.

The issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia hits home, when Danish ships cannot pass the sea without fear of being taken hostage. As it recently happened for a Danish family of sailers. The armed Islamic group, Al-Shabaab, becomes our business, when our humanitarian relief is hindered by them.

The issue of piracy has caused Danish Navy to guard the sea off the coast of Somalia. However, other issues relating to the plight of the Somalia people and the atrocities committed on land are often under-reported. If we want to promote responsible global reporting than we need to cover these issues.

Map showing the extent of Somali pirate attacks on shipping vessels between 2005 and 2010.

Promoting safe journalism

In countries such as Somalia, the situation is one of permanent chaos. Somalia remains in the midst of an ongoing violent crisis that has seen the nation without an effective government for nearly twenty years.

A culture of violence and impunity causes an environment in which the press is deliberately targeted by warring parties. Reporting in Somalia therefore requires research, planning, observation and reflection. Professional safety training courses, first aid and emergency aid courses are essential.

Even the best stories and pictures are only of value when they are read, seen or heard – the best journalists are better alive than dead. And while no one can remove all dangers from the profession, journalists, their organizations and their employers, all have a critical function in reducing the unacceptable rate of death and injury in Somalia.