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THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA IN POLITICAL RECONSTRUCTION

THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA IN POLITICAL RECONSTRUCTION

Author:
Publisher: www.somali-jna.org
English

This book is corrected and edited by Al-Hassanain (p) Institue for Islamic Heritage and Thought

Alhassanain (p) Network for Islamic Heritage and Thought

THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA IN POLITICAL RECONSTRUCTION

Academy for Peace and Development

Hargeysa, Somaliland

July 2002

Principal Researcher:

Boobe Yuusuf Ducaale

Working Group Members:

Siciid Axmed Maxamuud

Ciise Maxamed Xuseen

Safiya Cali Yuusuf

Xasan Siciid Yuusuf

Shukri Xariir Ismaaciil

Muuse Faarax Jambiir

Cabdillahi Maxamed Cumar

Saleebaan Ismaaciil Bullaale

Axmed Saleebaan Dhuxul

Xasan Maxamed Jaamac

Shaadiya Maxamed Rooble

Faa’isa Cali Xuseen

www.alhassanain.org/english

Table of Contents

1: INTRODUCTION 3

2: NEWS AND COMMUNICATION IN SOMALILAND 10

3: POLITICAL TRANSITION IN SOMALILAND 39

4: THE MEDIA ENVIRONMENT 47

5: RECOMMENDATIONS 57

ANNEXES 60

A. SOMALI RADIO STATIONS 60

B. CLASSIFICATION OF RADIO HARGEYSA PROGRAMS 60

1. Morning Transmission: 6.30 - 8.30 (9.00): 120 Min 60

2. Afternoon Transmission: 13.00 - 15.00 (120 Min) 61

3. Evening Transmission: 8.00 - 22.00 Hours (240 Min) 61

C. LIST OF MEDIA WORKSHOPS PARTICIPANTS: 62

1st Media Workshop: Camuud University, 20-22 June 2000 62

2nd Media Workshop: Burco: 15 - 17 October 2000 63

3rd Media Workshop: Hargeysa, 15-17 January 2001 64

BIBLIOGRAPHY 67

Notes 68

1: INTRODUCTION

The struggle for democracy has been a central element in the history of Somaliland’s liberation and its subsequent reconstruction. Peace and government have been built from the ground up, retaining power in diffuse and decentralized institutions. Popular aspirations for participatory democracy do daily battle with entrenched attitudes and habits formed under the authoritarian and highly centralized military dictatorship that ruled Somalia for 21 years. With peace still fragile and war a recent memory, the desire for freedom of thought, speech and act must be weighed against the need to preserve political stability and social harmony. No where are these contradictionsso clearly evident as in the evolution of Somaliland’s media.

Somalis are accustomed to such a well-preserved pattern of freedoms. Liberty of speech and movement were inherent in their traditional nomadic livelihood, and their egalitarian political culture was famously described as a “pastoral democracy.” Even the colonial powers were careful not to antagonize the Somalis by excessively restricting their free expression and movement. It was firmly and repeatedly drummed into serving colonial officers in Somaliland that nothing should be done that might seriously antagonize the local population. (Lewis, 94)

Under the dictatorial regime of Siyaad Barre the Somalis suffered two decades of brutal repression. Freedom of speech, association, and movement was denied. In Somaliland, these abuses gave rise to popular rebellion in the form of the guerrilla movement, theSNM, that eventually liberated the northwest and contributed to the overthrow of the Barre regime.

The establishment of the Republic of Somaliland on May 18, 1991 offered an opportunity to restore basic freedoms and to embark on a new chapter in democratisation. Successive community peace conferences have since served to broaden the participation of the people in the process of decision-making. Community elders, religious and literary leaders, businessmen, poets, women’s groups, and the press have made stenuous efforts to put an end to armed conflict and consolidate peace in Somaliland. These early efforts culminated the 1993 Grand Boorame Conference that oversaw the peaceful transfer of power from the SNM to the present civilian administration - no mean achievement, as one analyst notes:

“As the political organ that gave birth to democratic experimentation in Somaliland, and is still guiding it in more ways than one, it has learned how to forgive, how to compromise and accommodate, and how to relinquish state power when this is dictated by the principles for which it was struggling, even at the temporary cost of its own internal unity….The SNM did not find it difficult to transfer state power even prior to the disarmament of its liberation forces and the armed militia of other clans who opposed it during its guerilla warfare against the military dictatorship.” (Samatar, 1997)

Since then, conflict has resurfaced and further conference and peace-building efforts have been required. Peaceful, democratic discourse broke down over representation and power-sharing arrangements in 1994, ushering in nearly two years of civil strife. At a national conference in 1996 at which Maxamed Xaaji Ibraahin Cigaal was nominated President for a second term, political concessions were offered to the former opposition. The Parliament, comprising the House of Elders and the House of Representatives, was expanded to accommodate previously underrepresented clans and communities. A referendum on the Somaliland Constitution in May 2001 attracted over one million voters to the polls - the largest exercise in democracy Somaliland has ever experienced. A programme of municipal and general elections that was supposed to take place before the term of the government, 23 February 2002 has been postponed as the mandate of the government has been extended for a year by the Council of Elders. The gradual process of democratisation in Somaliland is not seen as a luxury or an import, but rather as an integral - and indeed essential - part of the peace-building process.

Democracy

There is no single definition of democracy. The American creed summarizes that country’s ideal democracy as “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” More cynical pundits have described democracy as the worst possible system of government except for all the other systems. A more conventional definition of democracy is that of

…a political system, which supplies regular constitutional opportunities for changing the governing officials. It is a social mechanism for the resolution of the problems of societal decision-making among conflicting interest groups which permits the largest possible part of the population to influence these decisions through their ability to choose among alternative contenders for political office (Lipset, 1959).

Some have qualified the definition of democracy as a political system in which the people exercise power to the extent that they are able to change their governors, but not to the extent of governing themselves (Sartori, 1965). By implication, the governors in a democratic system do not enjoy unlimited powers.

Some contemporary analysts contend that in order to be considered democratic, a system of government “must combine three essential conditions: meaningful competition of power amongst individuals and organized groups; inclusive participation in the selection of leaders and policies, at least through free and fair elections; and a level of civil and political liberties sufficient to ensure the integrity of political competition and participation.”(Bloomfield and Reilly, 1998).

Additionally, democratic regimes tend to describe themselves in terms of a system of beliefs i.e. liberty, equality, justice, the separation of powers (executive, legislative and judicial), preferred governance practices (accountability, transparency), and freedom of the press.

The Media and Democratisation

While press freedom is only one among many civil and political liberties, the historical contribution of the press to democracy merits special attention. Around the world, the media has historically played a vital role in social transformation and political liberalisation through the exercise of two principal functions: informing the public of matters of public interest and serving as a watchdog of government. Access to information enables the public to make informed choices, to actively participate in decision-making processes and to assess the performance of their leaders: essential elements of a functioning democracy. So critical are these functions to the healthy functioning of the body politic that freedom of opinion and expression including the right to “receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and further guaranteed by the constitutions of most democratic states.

In recent decades, the concept of “press” freedom - which has historically referred to the print media - has increasingly become redefined in terms of ‘mass media’: institutions which use increasingly sophisticated technology “for the communication of ideas, for the purposes of information, entertainment and persuasion, to large-scale audiences” (Bilton et al.,1981). Radio, television and the Internet have dramatically expanded their influence across the globe, underpinned by the dramatic expansion of satellite communications. So important has the influence of the media become that contemporary analysts generally acknowledge importance of the “CNN” effect on national and international policymaking.

Given the media’s formidable power to influence social and political attitudes, it is not surprising that many governments exert strict control over licensing and content. Under authoritarian regimes, legislation, regulation and intimidation of the independent media may be employed to restrict press freedom. More open governments may seek an informal “understanding” with the independent media to restrict political content or to limit criticism of the government.

Where government controls are relatively relaxed, the media is freer to defineit’s own role. But with such freedom comes awesome social and political responsibility. This is especially true in the context of divided societies and politically fragile states. Most modern wars are intra-state conflicts, involving issues related to state structure and function. In such conflicts, perceptions may acquire greater force than objectivity. The role that media actors assign themselves in such situations can be central to how a conflict evolves. Bosnia and Rwanda provide two recent examples of how the media can become a powerful instrument of division and violence.

Alternatively, the media can contribute to reconciliation and the consolidation of peace. The media may encourage tolerance of social and political heterogeneity within a society, or to communicate symbols of national identity by providing coverage of national leaders and institutions, national news items and sporting events (although such programming can easily slide towards propaganda). The media may also play an educational role, enhancing public awareness about how democracy functions, and about individual rights, responsibilities, and roles with respect to the political process.

In most cases, however, the choices faced by the media are more mundane, such as editorial policy, relationships with government, and the degree to which content should be determined by commercial considerations. Such choices, nuanced as they may be, help to shape public discourse within society. Individual journalists typically exert less influence over such decisions than their employers. In the words of a veteran journalist: “A more responsible press depends not upon individual journalists but upon more responsible owners” (Cronkite, 96).

Fortunately, “the media” is not monolithic: just as different journalists will portray the same events in different ways, so will different publishers and broadcasters naturally make different policy choices. The proliferation of media actors in a democratic society can therefore help to give expression to social diversity and political pluralism.

The media and political reconstruction in Somaliland

Somaliland’s attempt to replace dictatorship with a more open, democratic system includes a commitment to freedom of expression. The collapse of the Barre regime in 1991 was followed by a proliferation of the independent media in Somaliland, beginning with mimeographed newsletters in the major towns. Letterpress printers were installed in Hargeysa and Berbera in 1993, and the first broadsheet newspapers in Somaliland for nearly a quarter of a century gradually began to appear when offset printing presses were installed in November 1995. Radio Hargeysa was rehabilitated in 1999 and private television introduced in 1997. Internet services have been available in Hargeysa since 2001.

But, the evolution towards a responsible independent media has been neither straight nor smooth. Somaliland’s existing media actors are few, representing only a narrow section of public opinion and reaching an equally narrow audience: only a small minority of Somalilanders have any access to the local media at all. Political discourse in Somaliland is still heavily characterized by rhetoric, rumour and innuendo, to which the media often contributes. Professor Saleebaan Axmed Guuleed, president of Camuud University, has described the Somaliland media as “a double-edged knife,” capable of both instigating and mitigating conflict. Cali Xasan Sheekhdoon, a member of the House of Representatives, argues similarly: “The media could be a constructive element as well as a destructive one. It depends on the policies and objectives it serves.”

The findings of this study suggest that Somalilanders are well aware of the importance of the media and its potential impact on the political process. “Dhawaaq meel dheer buu ku dhacaa, dhagax na meel dhow,” states one proverb, meaning that a statement travels far, while a stone thrown falls only a short distance away. Equally of concern is the danger that may arise if the media becomes a hostage to certain groups, or amplifies particular issues while at the same time neglecting others that are of paramount importance for the public and state. As one informant argued, unless the media broadens its coverage to include previously neglected issues and social groups, “our reconstruction and democratisation process will always remain incomplete”.

The contents of this chapter represent one year of research conducted in order to better understand the role of the media in Somaliland’s political evolution, as well as the opportunities for its future contribution to the democratisation process. While the findings of the research potentially, raise more questions than answers, they underscore the Somaliland public’s recognition of the media’s vital role, and its growing demand for reliable information.

METHODOLOGY

The National Project Group Meeting in November 1999 held in Hargeysa chose The Role of the Media and Oral Culture in Political Rebuilding as one of the four Entry Points to be further researched. Successive Working Group meetings further elaborated the entry point, breaking it down into three main sections, further divided into sub themes.

The Working Groups consisted of knowledgeable volunteers who closely worked with the Academy in the in-depth research of the Entry Point. The Working Group consisted of 12-15 members representing the social and professional groups of the society. Among them were legislators of the Houses of Representatives and Elders, government officials mostly from the Ministry of Information, media people, artists and experts in the field of communication. Eight Working Group meetings were held in connection to the workshops and research process, in which the following issues were addressed:

• Focussing the Entry Point

• Identification of the categories and selection of participants

• Preparation of the agenda and concept papers of the workshops

• Scheduling and planning of the workshops

• Evaluation and assessment of the workshops

• Selection of the venue

The workshops

The main research phase involved three workshops concentrating on different topics, held in different parts of Somaliland. Workshop participants included representatives of government and private media, members of both Houses of Parliament, ministries, law enforcement agencies, civil society, elders and members of the public whose professional engagement warranted their contributions and recommendations to the workshop. An average of ten members of the Working Group attended each of the workshops and helped to guide discussion; working group members also played a lead role in the opening and closing of each workshop.

The Media Environment 15-17 January 2001 Hargeysa

The workshops were enlivened by the topical contributions of poets, whose verses both delighted and provoked the participants, stimulating the exchange of ideas. Two poems depicting the flora and fauna of this country by the outspoken young poet Cali Mooge were especially fascinating in the way they encompassed the names of all the animals and plants of the land without losing the alliteration and meter fundamental to the Somali poetry.

The first workshop, on the role of the modern media in Somaliland, took place on 20-22 June 2000 at Camuud University, the first institute of higher learning to be established in the country since the civil war. In addition to the workshop participants, lecturers and students from the University participated in the workshop and were active in its proceedings. The workshop examined such issues as objectivity, responsibility, ethics, ownership, and audience.

The second workshop was held in Burco from 15-17 October 2000. Since Burco lies beyond the reach of most modern media, the workshop focussed on traditional channels of information, particularly such gathering places as teashops, markets, and “mefrishes”. The roles of religious leaders and poets, who have historically played important roles in shaping social attitudes, were also discussed.

The third workshop, on the media environment in Somaliland, took place in the Ministry of Information, Hargeysa, on 15-17 January 2001. Specific topics of discussion included the legal context (constitution, interim legislation and press laws); personnel and resource constraints; professional conduct and standards; and the role of the media in political reconstruction.

Venues of the workshops were chosen according to the three chapters. Camuud University was chosen because of the fact that it was the pioneer of the higher education institutions in the country. Burco was chosen for the informal media as it is one of the main literary centres and the main livestock market. The third workshop took place in Hargeysa of the presence of the legal institutions, the legislative bodies and the headquarters of all the media sectors.

The report

This report is organized in three main sections. The first presents an overview of the pre-war media, beginning with traditional channels of information and their evolution during the modern period. The section provides the historical and cultural background, describing the special importance attached to news in Somali nomadic society, and the relative decline of traditional methods of communication vis-à-vis the modern media in recent decades. The section continues with a review of traditional channels of information such as the madal (tree) in the rural areas and the masaajid (mosque), marketplaces, teashops, and mefrishes in the urban centres, as well as the crucial roles of religious leaders and poets.

The second section of the paper deals with the media in Somaliland since 1991, with particular reference to the links between the media, reconciliation and process of democratisation. The section treats issues such as the revival of the media in the post war period, the media’s contribution to peace conferences, objectivity and accuracy of reporting. Another issue of general concern is the neglect by the media of the rural community. Public perceptions and expectation of the role of the media is also examined.

The third section tackles the contemporary media environment, notably the legal context, government attitudes, as well as other opportunities and constraints faced by the modern media.

The fourth and final section sets forth the recommendations and conclusions reached by participants in the research process.