Monday, September 20, 2010

Media wars in Somalia.

Mogadishu, September 19 - Al-Shabab militants early on Sunday morning seized another radio station in Mogadishu bringing to five the number of private radio stations they have confiscated since the start of the year.

This times round, it was not just another radio station but they went for the kill by confiscating radio and TV equipments belonging to HornAfrik Radio and TV station, the pioneer of private broadcast and TV station in Somalia. They did not stop there but also confiscated radio equipments belonging to its sister station called Capital Voice.

HornAfrik has also a working relationship with the global news agency Reuters, my former employers. Reuters buy's video footage from HornAfrik TV, also Somalia's first private TV station. They got away with a professional camera and a laptop belonging to Reuters and which was under the care of HornAfrik. Fortunately a B-gan, also belonging to Reuters was left behind by the gunmen who thought it’s a useless gadget!

After the Al-Shabab raid, its copycat Hizbul Islam group also decided to take over the Global Broadcasting Corporation GBC radio in a bid to outwit the Al-Shabab. The Somali media are again caught up in the middle of this battle to control the media by the two antagonist groups.

I spoke to a HornAfrik staff who was present during the 2:00am morning raid that involved 60 heavily armed Al-Shabab fighters at the station. Below is an excerpt from his interview describing the early morning raid. The staff’s name has been concealed for his own safety.

"They came around 2am this morning and knocked the main door. They were around 60 heavily armed Al-Shabab gunmen. One of our guards sought to know who was knocking that late, they ordered him to open the door threatening to kill if he did not heed their call. He had no option but to open it, they forced their way into the compound and beat him up before locking him into a room. They also beat up the second guard. They then went to look for another staff member who had the keys to all the rooms. They were well informed and knew what they want. I locked myself in another room praying all the time to Allah to protect me from them. It was a very nervous experience for me and I thank God for the protection,"

"They took away radio equipments for HornAfrik radio and television, its sister station capital voice as well as all the archived audio and video tapes. They also got away with a professional camera and a laptop belonging to Reuters news agency. Fortunately they threw away the B-gan thinking it’s a power supply,"

"The estimated total cost of equipment taken is estimated to be around US$200,000. This is a huge blow to our operation. HornAfrik was Somalia's biggest private media house and it will for sure have a negative effect in the Somali media in generation. Our station has been closed so many times by different factions but the equipments have never been seized until this morning. This is really a dark day in Somalia,"