By Robleh Danguri Raagsaale
Is the Somali Service of Voice of America a fair and balanced source of news?
Is VOA Somali shifting away from its fundamental principles for which it was established under the Second Amendment?
Why the most talented Somali journalists have left VOA Somali resigning in massive numbers?
Why especial preference is given only to those who came from the same regions of Somalia? Why there is no equal opportunity for all capable journalists when it comes to selecting new broadcasters for VOA Somali?
What is the required education of the Editor-in-Chief to run such internationally acclaimed media organization?
Is there a space left for further reformation before it will be too late to lose many listeners?
To get answers for these and other questions, let us take a bird’s eye view on the past and current state of VOA Somali.
When VOA’s Somali Service officially went on air in 2007, it has increasingly attracted the best Somali radio broadcasters of all hues and stripes, mainly to contribute their journalistic knowledge and help Somalis better understand the cultural, religious and ethnic diversity that made America the greatest nation on the earth.
These Somali journalists were the most experienced Somali broadcasters that Somalis have ever seen since the BBC Somali Service was established in 1947 from its relay station in the port city of Barbara, in the Somaliland Republic. These Somali journalists captivated their audience with their soothing and thunderous voices that in return, earned them immense respect and eternal reputations, from their listeners throughout Somali-speaking regions in the whole east Africa. In short, they were crème Del crème.
But soon something utterly went wrong. The emotive feelings emotion and journalistic virility that brought them to Washington to VOA’s Somali Service had soon evaporated thin in the air. Against their expectation, soon they found themselves in lion’s cave; their stood a huge wall in the form of human being. It become hard to penetrate through the` great wall` that was erected in front them. The only option that was left for them was mass resignation. This huge concrete wall in the form of human being was the current head of VOA’s Somali Service. They regretted the day they resigned from their respective Radio stations for which they worked with humility and dignity without first seeing behind their noses. It was the late Ahmed Hassan Cawke, who became the first to pack up his suit to leave the door indiscreet without looking at the back of his shoulder. For Cawke, it was a bitter pill to swallow that someone he knew down there at Radio Mogadishu as a simple narrator treated him and other prominent journalists like as if they were servants working for his own house. Without looking back, Cawke was quoted as saying “I would never ever bow my head for a “corn-cracker;” and took the first plane to London, “with all hair by the nose”. What Cawke refused was to be an obsequious servant that otherwise could have amounted to self-demotion. Cawke was a Somaliland born British national, who was employed by BBC Somali Service before he joined the VOA’s Somali Service.
Others who followed Cawke’s footprints include: Abdisalam Ismail Hareri, who is now working for the local TV; Mohamed Hussein, who is now the BBC’s correspondence in USA; Ali Xaraare, the famous Somali comedian who is now based in Minneapolis, USA; Fathia Obseie, a successful Somali-American writer and film producer who resigned after openly she became at daggers drawn with the head of the service; Ismail Farjar was the last to leave VOA Somali this year. Before such mass resignation took place, VOA Somali reached almost every Somali household with variety of highly polished interesting programs that consequently prompted a follow-up discussion among its listeners, especially on the leading topic of the day at every tea shop. It reached its highest peak of reputation; credit goes mainly to Ahmed Hassan Cawke. He was known for shouldering his journalistic work in dignity and to the manner of humanity. Ahmed Hassan Cawke stood tall among the leading broadcasters who took VOA’s Somali-programs to a mass of Somali listeners, who virtually glued to their Transistor Radios. As his voice vibrated on the air, Somalis were gripped in a climate of silence, attentively lending their ears to the ongoing news stories. Some Somalis event went further saying, Cawk’s thunderous voice could stop even the chirping birds to listen to him, (bite exaggerated though it may appear). But no doubt, Cawke was considered by many as an iconic broadcaster who set a standard for many young radio announcers everywhere in Somali-speaking nations in east Africa. Caweke, with his wonderful personal character that became an exemplary to those who knew him, was also, Somali journalists’ lodestar. During the period he served both for the BBC and Somalia’s Radio Mogadishu, he never had his swords crossed with his senior officials, even at the time when his hometown was reduced to the ashes by aerial and artillery bombardments. With the acme of intelligence and refinement, Cawke’s journalistic career touched every corner of all Somali-speaking people in east Africa. Those who knew him were stunned how it came to pass that the current VOA Somali Service’s head had become at daggers drawn with Cawke. Cawke was lost in reverie after he left VOA Somali until the day of his death came in eastern Ethiopian city of Jijiga on November 17, 2015.
The mass resignation of such highly qualified Radio broadcasters in a short time of period has been largely attributed to the senseless provocation and unwarranted pressure exerted to them by the “ the head of the Service”, according to Ali Xaraare, who gave an interview to local TV Channel, after his unjustified termination. Ali Xarare, a well known Somali TV comedian, who is now based in Minneapolis, (which has the largest Somali community in USA,) has broken the ice by releasing a can of worms. In his TV interview that went viral, he stated that Abdirahman Yaberow has mistakenly taken him as a Somalilander, although he is a Hargeisan born Puntlander. He further elaborated that his relentless efforts to convince Yabarow that what matters was his profession and not where he came from, fall on a deaf ear. At the end, he had no other alternative choice, but to accept his disgraceful dismissal from his journalistic work because his presence there was not something welcomed by Yaberow.
After the departure of Ahmed Hassan and other leading Somali journalists, Abdirahmam Yabaroow congratulated himself as unchallenged boss of the VOA Somali Service that paved the way for his long standing ambitions of judging every program from his own clan’s perspectives, or for that matter, issuing long lists of those who would be interviewed and those he would never be given an opportunity to express their intellectual points of view on the prevailing situation, both in Somalia and Somaliland. To reach his long cherished personal goals of firmly remaining in control of the Service, he divided the broadcasters into three categories, according to multiple sources based in USA, who asked their names to remain anonymous:
- Those who enjoy breathing to his ears simply because they share the same regional and tribal-affinity despite the fact they are the least capable broadcasters – some have never researched a program that was worth of being released on air.
- Those he shares identical views when it comes to dealing the news stories in connection with Somaliland’s case.
- The only two Somalilanders, who, somehow, made their way to VOA Somali to eke out an honest buck, feel privately a sense of isolation. They are known for keeping a low profile in order to avoid publicly arguing with the editor, as otherwise, he would create obstacles when it comes to immigration paperwork that he would sign finally for them. Under the surface, these journalists deeply feel they are working with somebody who hates them. In short they are kept in tight corner.
Now, that he is the master of his own, it was a high time to use his unilateral journalistic sanctions against those he targeted as the enemies, by mainly singling out the Somalilanders who he says they are “ secessionists” with different ideological policy that contravene what he calls “ our sacred union.” The following events which left a bitter taste in the mouth of every Somalis which till today became a household discussion suffice, what Mr. Yarow is and what he stands for:-
- It was Just only 20 days before the elections that brought the incumbent president to power began when, VOA Somali had launched a highly organized and precisely executed a propaganda stunt for Hassan Sheik Mohamud, with aim of clearing the ground for his re-elections. The VOA, which hitherto had never made a lavish advertisement for any American presidential-candidates because of its long standing editorial policy, has this time taken a different course by launching a propaganda stunt for another country’s leadership. Siding one candidate against the other does not necessarily reflect the VOA’s longstanding editorial policy for which it was established in accordance with Second amendments Act that above everything else, defines the freedom of press. In direct live program hosted by VOA Somali, President Hassan touted his achievements at length, answering questions from handpicked loyal supporters from the American city of Minneapolis and Villa Somalia.
Such hitherto unaccustomed propaganda campaign raised many questions with regards VOA Somali’s impartiality when it comes to covering certain politicians, who allegedly have close ties with the head of the service. The Head of VOA’s Somali had never let other fellow journalists to interview Hassan Mohammud. Instead, he personally took the initiative of planning and executing such previously pre-arranged follow up questions that positively reflected the government’s policy. Launching such highly controversial program when the hotly contested presidential elections were on the corner, has also marked the rapidly eroding listeners who no longer rely on VOA’s news stories in any given sensitive events.
Ever since Hassan Sheikh Hassan came to power through manner which was totally opposite to the internationally accepted norms of democratically elections, the VOA’s Somali Service, has doubled its media campaigns against the people of Somaliland people and the their government by distorting the facts on issues concerning Somaliland’s overall situation.
- August 19, 2016 is historically a remarkable day in the Somali calendar. It was a day some minority Somalis oozed blood-tears for the death of one of heroes, while the relatives of the genocide victims overjoyed, because it was a day they found final closure. One man’s meat is another man’s poisonous. It was also a day that exposed VOA Somali that it stood in the wrong side of history.
The death of former Somalia’s army forces commander, Lt.General Mohamed Ali Samater, who was accused and tried by USA Supreme Court for personally leading a genocidal campaign that killed over seventy thousand innocent civilians and destroying all major cities, including Hargeisa and Burao in the then northern regions, has clearly exposed the position taken by VOA’s Somali that raised a storm of protests in Somaliland and “rights” organizations around the world. VOA Somali service has carried out a glaring one-sided interview in which Samater’s cousin was interviewed without asking his role in the genocidal campaign. Gen.Sameter’s cousin instead, eulogized him as a real soldier who never even harmed a fly.VOA Somali deliberately avoided talking either to the victims of the massacre or the members of the supreme court who indicted and found him guilty of personally giving instructions to the torture and the bombardment of major cities which still today bear the scars of the destructions. It’s interesting to note that the presenter, assigned to cover such sensitive event was a hardliner who is known publicly for his anti-Somaliland rhetoric in Washington area as his close cousins and uncles directly took part in the aerial and ground bombardment during the years of1982-1988 that sparked the largest civilian exodus in the history of that country since it achieved its independence from British on June 26, 1960.
As the plane carrying the dead body of General Samater touched down at the Mogadishu airport, the then Somalia’s head of state Hassan Sh.Mohamed announced three days of national mourning and ordered national flag at half-mast. Speaking at the burial ceremony, Hassan heaped all kinds of elegizing words on General Samater as “a hero of all heroes” who destroyed Somalia’s enemies to the ashes, apparently referring to the civil conflict in Somaliland during which many people were massacred at the behest of General Samater. As if all that unbridled bombastic eulogy was enough, Hassan instructed his defense minister to erect a mausoleum for General Samater on the compound of Ministry of Defense in commemoration of his heroic deeds that he accomplished without reservation during the civil war in northern regions.
It’s also interesting to note the other Abgali prominent figures who were entrusted to supervise the Samater’s burial ceremony , were Col. Nur Xassan Hussein, formerly the chairman of General Barre’s National Security Court, a kangaroo court that passed death sentences to all Somali intellectuals, opposed the dictatorial regime and Ali Mahdi who unilaterally declared himself as Somalia’s head of state without consulting the liberation organization immediately after the collapse of dictatorial regime in 1992.
“It was all a family affair.” Said General Mohamed Nur Galal who immediately condemned all oleaginous praising heaped posthumously on what he called “a criminal whose hands dripped with bloods of innocent civilians he ordered to be massacred in Somaliland.
General Galaal resigned as the army forces’ chief of staff at the height of the brutal military campaign. He could not resist himself utterly annoyed the hitherto unseen brutality to civilian meted out. General Galaal is no doubt, a career soldier who is burning with spirit of heroism. He is widely known for his unwavering belief for sense of patriotism. He believes what he is and what he stood for. With special acme of intelligence and refinement, General Mohamed Nur Galaal walks tall among all Somalis regardless creed or tribe. The Somali people owe him great respect for speaking out the truth, when General Samater and his subordinate officers were engaged in orgy of killings the innocent civilians in the city of Hargeisa. VOA Somali covered all the these events without even mentioning Samater’s past role in the Northern region while the BBC Somalia Service carried out a highly balanced program quoting prominent military figures like General Mohamed Nur Gallal, the former army commander-in-chief, who resigned from his post, saying in his words “I took oath to protect Somali people from enemies and not to massacre the innocent civilians.” General Gallal was referring to General Samater who personally led the civilian massacre that took place in the major cities, in what then were called Somalia’s northern regions, which he himself confessed to the BBC Somali Service and the RAI TV.
While that totally one-sided coverage of Gen.Samater’s death, which raised eventually a storm of protest, was still ringing in the ears of the relatives of genocide victims, the unexpected happened. The presenter, Bule Jama Bule was given unrestricted responsibility to compile any negative news stories that he deems would harm politically and economically Somaliland’s current positions visa-vie Somalia. A case in a point is the saga of the tripartite agreement that Somaliland signed with state owned Dubai Port World (DPA) and the government of Ethiopia, for the expansion and management of the port of Berbera on the Red Sea cost.
In his weekly program, under the title ` talk to listeners` which was released on air on 11th March 2018, Bule Jama ,indirectly coaxed Somalia’s Foreign Minister, who was the guest of the program for not tightening the noose against Somaliland’s government by appealing to the USA government and other regional states. While the program was in full-swing on air, all Somali speaking audiences were an invited to express their own opinion about the topic under discussion. But we were all flabbergasted that among the hundreds who responded to the call, only those who came from Somalia were deliberately chosen by the presenter, simply because they used all kinds of tribal slurs and racist rants against the people of Somaliland. It’s beyond doubt that such one-sided interview would breed hate. Hate breeds hate; and love breeds love.
- The major event that led to the rapid erosion of VOA Somali listeners is the unprovoked condemnation and naked vulgar insults uttered by Professor Abdi Ismail Samater against the two former Somali leaders who notably sailed Somalia to where it was from 1960 to 1969 before the military junta took over the country’s rein by force.
In a serialized pre-arranged interview, which went on air for several weeks under the title of ` Africa’s first democracy`, Abdi Ismail Samater, insulted in an undignified fashion Somalia’s first democratically elected president, the late Dr.Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke and his then Prime Minster, the late Mohamed Ibrahim Egal, who became Somaliland’s second head of state when the country withdrew from the union it formed with Somalia in 1960, after it achieved its independence from British rule. Samater has made repeatedly scathing attacks against both Dr.Abdiashid Ali Shamarke and Mohamed Ibrahim Egal as corrupted figures under whose leadership nepotism and maladministration reached the highest level that the world had never seen before. The interview was full of lies and flagrant disrespect for certain section of Somalis from which both Shamarke and Egal hailed. In short, what he said about Egal and Sharmarke was “a Double Dutch; a gibberish language that had no grain of truth. It was a vilification campaign aimed at tainting posthumously the untainted images of both Sharmarke and Egal. By any stretch of imagination, he proved himself that he has no for sight. Foresight is better than hindsight. He is a kind of person who fell into a state of perpetual ennui from which nothing can extract him
Professor Samater, a geography teacher, who was dubbed by one of Kenyan political scientist, as ` pseudo-politician`, heaped all kinds of praise on late President Aden Abdulle and his prime minister Abdirasaq Haji Hussein, who run the country as in-laws scratching each other’s backs by keeping away the` northerners` from higher position in the government.
In a live debate hosted by BBC’ Somali Service, one of highly respected Somali-Kenyan political scientists, Mohamed Abdullah described Samater as` pseudo-politician` who was obsessed with anachronistic remarks against any Somali leader who came to power, both in the past and present days. Mohamed Abdullah, who was also the head of the BBC’s Somali service until he retired, responded to Samater during the live debate by saying, in his own words “He is shifty, evasive, obsessive and anachronistic.”
As Mohamed went further explaining professor Samater’s past and present negative stands in the Somali politics, the audience listened in a stunned silence. Mohamed said Prof.Samater has `ants in his pants. `
A number of Somali educated intellectuals who were angered by Samater’s unprecedented vulgar slurs he made posthumously against former President Sharmarke and Prime Minister Egal had requested to express their own opinion in the form of interviews with VOA’s Somali Service, but with no avails. What these Somali intellectuals asked for was simply to color the mast – the right their voice to be heard. Samtar’s glaringly unrestricted air time to continuously launch a smear campaign against certain Somalis, reflects the true picture of what the Editor-in-Chief of VOA’s Somali stands for – it’s an indication truly exposing what kind of person the VOA’s Somali Chief Editor is. Instead of imposing sanctions, particularly on Somaliland`s intellectual community based in USA from portraying their own views on the current prevailing situation in their homeland, Yabarow would have created an atmosphere of national consensus to widen the agenda for the ongoing dialogue between Somalia and Somaliland. Driving wedge among Somalis only would widen their differences as it would have eventually a boomerang effect. He always feigns a false sense of self-appreciation that his qualification in journalism is second to none, as briefly stated in Wikipedia, when in fact, everybody knows that he had never attended a school of journalism. In short, he is a kind of a person whose mindset is geared towards hate and revenge.
In conclusion, I would like to draw your attention that the above mentioned points should be taken as a bird’s eye view or a tip on the iceberg, given the immense mistakes and deliberately biased stores framed against one section of Somali population; such mistakes have apparently become a daily occurrence that cannot be covered in a short space. I would like to suggest respectfully that the relevant VOA management should make the record straight by carrying out a journalistic investigation into one of its services that such mistakes do not occur again. Such internationally renowned media organization which became an exemplary for the rest of broadcasting stations, should not have given a chance to a taxi driver in the first place without background checking.
Journalism is not like eating ` mufo` (local bread) with `mascara` (sesame oil). A taxi driver should not be given a free reign to run a roughshod over such internationally acclaimed media organization that made impartiality and human interest stories its milestone, since its inception 1947.Only sticking to the facts without any discriminations, regardless color or creed, in accordance with American Press Act, meticulously stipulated in the USA’s Second Amendments, is what made VOA to be an exemplary to the rest of the world, especially the third world, where still, in some countries, press is facing restrictions. The editor-in-chief of any media organization should look everything from the perspectives of human interest. He should not be a pachydermatous to ideas.
For the smooth running of VOA Somali, a listeners feedback based a monitoring mechanism could be employed which tremendously improves the quality of daily programs in the near future.
For instance, the weekly cultural program should be taken as the starting point to evaluate by using the listeners feedback. Perhaps and most possibly, the weekly cultural program is the least listened by Somali people as it only geared towards a certain section of Somalis in Somalia. This is an area where every program’s quality and its purpose of presentation could be determined by relevant authorities. The weekly cultural program’s (literary) presenter has an especial knack of heaping all kinds of elegy on his clan’s old poets, while deliberately ignoring Somalis best known contemporary poets. In his eyes, the other poets are not worth of being mentioned in his program. That it’s the least listened program is no-brain. It’s in public domain. In the sense of the word, the weekly program is not incongruous with widely-held Somali culture and poetical norms.
Finally, I would like to remind profoundly to those relevant authorities who care the smooth running of VOA Somali that I harbor no hate and vengeance to those who are currently engaged in broadcasting business at the VOA as a whole, except viscerally trying to put forward what I have monitored over the years as an insider. It’s purely out of altruism expecting no return for what I have stated about VOA Somalis.