Somaliland: Call for Action, Restoring SONSAF to its Noble Cause

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Somalilandsun – Despite the legacy left by the thirty years (30yrs) of Siyad Barre’s dictatorial and despotic regime, restoring the rights of freedom of media and expression was a task of huge challenges.

Dear Partners, Siyad Barre was toppled in 1991 and Somaliland with withdrew from the union an embarked a process of state building BUT the regime’s administrative and bureaucratic culture of oppression remains intact with its hardcore implementer (except Siad Barre) still being the dominating force in public service arena. This legacy had been challenged by the emergence and mushrooming of a new privately owned media outlets, mainly print media, run and mostly owned by a younger generation of Journalists in post-Barre era. This was a perfect clash of generations between the above mentioned two groups with different mentalities, resources, energies and dynamism.

With the grace of Allah (SWT), the sacrifice, dedication and bravery of journalists, and of course, the support of Somaliland’s freedom-loving people, significant achievement was made in creating a more open, freedom of expression conducive environment was established, a culture of dialogue and media freedom has been instilled that positively added Somaliland’s much praised success in reconciliation, peace-building and democratization efforts. This, however, doesn’t mean that reforming this sector is over – far from it, indeed. Journalists and media professional are being still killed, arrested, threatened, and tortured while the families of these hero’s are paying higher prices in doing a fairly decent work of journalism NOT the kind of investigative journalism in other places.

The chief aim of this letter, like many other similar issued by us recently, is to direct the attention of all stakeholders the unfolding of serious trend that may eventually return Somaliland hard earned yet limited freedom of media to level much worse than Barre’s era. What makes this threat more serious is the nature of the anti-media campaign and its participants.

In addition to the old state apparatus, this anti-freedom of expression and media freedom engages former individual journalists and the more powerful institutional capabilities of SOMALILAND NON-STATE ACTORS FORUM known as “SONSAF” which enjoys our membership and the financial support of aid agencies such as the European Union (EU) through an INGO called SAFER WORLD and DFID among many others. While we are fully aware that the generous financial support of these agencies is in good faith, we’d like to turn their attention to SoNSAF’s rather worrying internal dynamics such as the status of its declining governance and the pro-government posture of SoNSAF’s higher leadership (Board of Directors and management team).

SoNSAF’s leaders not only failed to advance the best interest of membership as well as miscarried the hopes and aspiration of all its stakeholders – members, donors, Somaliland citizenry, and others. SoLJA as a member of SoNSAF and as the largest network representing Somaliland journalists – very vulnerable and much exposed to relatively higher risks when compared to other professionals represented by SoNSAF such medical and legal workers – experienced first-hand the failures of SoNSAF.

We do hereby cite a number of incidents that reveal SoNSAF’s gross failure:

Since Somaliland’s current administration came to power in 2010 launched a brutal and vigorous campaign to silence all voices of dissent in general and journalists in particular. As reported by SoLJA and many others, more than 200 journalists were jailed during a period of three years (July 2011 to June 2014). Very few of them appeared in court. This is an alarming record high when compared to the 19 journalists arrested of whom most of them appeared before throughout Riyale’s eight (8yr) administration (from 2003 to 2011).
Over the last two years the premises of two publications, Hubaal and Haatuf, were raided in broad daily by paramilitary forces. Both papers remain locked and turned to military posts. This kind of behavior is the first of its in the history of Somaliland media.
As part of its silencing campaign, the government embarked a process to employ more than 27 journalists and/or media house owners in different capacities as ministers, directors, spokesperson and etc. This is can be characterized a ‘nationalization of private media’.
Quite a large number of other voices of dissent were silenced among is the highly respected Scholar , a prisoner of consciousness, mr Jama Jiir, who is serving a four year jail term despite reports stating his poor health.

While the government of Somaliland spares no effort to suppress all sources of freedom of expression and media, it very unfortunate that SoNSAF becomes a reliable partner in this evil campaign rather than providing the necessary protection and advocacy required. SoNSAF did not condemn a single incident of all those 200 arrests let alone working towards a better media regulatory environment. On the contrary, SoNSAF an extension of the government’s already existing state machinery but a more subtle and efficient arm than any other body.

In fact any spectator who been closely following SoNSAF’s recent policy postures can see the total collapse of its governance and leadership structures and the pro-government path it has taken. Sixty percent (60%) of SoNSAF’s board of trustees, for instance, with the help of government, retained their seats amid criticisms of leadership failure. Furthermore, president Silanyo’s legal advisor is an active member serving SoNSAF’s board in his second term. In his first term, he was serving as the chairman of SoNSAF. Another member of SoNSAF’s board is the former minister of Telecommunication and the current chairman of the National Health Professional Council (NHPC) – a post that is nominated by the president of the republic. A third board member of SoNSAF possibly the representative of the traditional authorities is an civil servant in the Ministry of Interior (MoI) . All three member are on government payroll. In addition to the violation of principles of due diligence and best practices in good governance, SoNSAF has been trying to draft a media bill in replacement to Press Law no 27/2004 which had never been enforced by the government. To our dismay, the drafters are led by two members of SoNSAF’s board of director – among them, again, is the legal advisor of the president, ex-chairman of SoNSAF and current board member. In parallel to the changes occurring at the board level, it is our knowledge that gross mishandling of recruitment and termination procedure at SoNSAF’s administrative level whereby members of the board had recently been reported.

SoLJA, already overstretched interims of resources to respond to government not ashamed of using public resource to undermine the very liberty of its own citizenry, is seriously concerned the additional threats posed by an institution claiming to stand for the noble goals of defending civil and political rights, enjoying the generous assistance of the international community and the acceptance of civil society, business community, traditional/religious community as their forum – that is SONSAF. SoLJA has already written another letter[i] on the same issue and remains to commit itself to return SoNSAF, together with other members, to its ambitious mission, and noble cause of seeing a Somaliland that is democratic and that the rights of ALL are respected.

In nutshell, SoLJA is sending the below messages to concerned parties

SoLJA is particular calling for donors of SoNSAF to pay attention to the level of judiciary risk levels may be facing while using any influence they might have to return SONSAF to the good intentions of its founding fathers and to the efficient use of already limited funds paid by their tax payers at time of global economic hardship.
SoLJA is calling for SONSAF to exercise restraint and not jeopardize the organization of SoLJA’s proper convening of its 5th general assembly. SoLJA is upset to learn that SoNSAF togather with the minister of information, Hon. Abdillahi Dahir, are planning to create havoc among SoLJA member in a abid to either swallow SoLJA or the government to use any SoNSAF caused dispute as pretext to suspense SoLJA from operations.
SoLJA is calling for SoNSAF to exercise restraint from drafting a bill on behalf of the administration that may undermine freedom of media and expression. We do believe that enforcement of the already approved Press law 27/2004 and its amendment based on the practical application of the law and input of all concerned parties in an open, independent consultative process in the future.
SoLJA is calling for other SONSAF members such as representative organizations from civil society, business community, professional association and traditional/religious authority to joint forces to hold accountable to SoNSAF’s current leadership.

Regards to

Somaliland Journalist Association SOLJA

Head Office Hargeisa

Somaliland Journalist Association (SOLJA)
Hargeisa main Office

www.ururkasolja.org  Email: soljajour@gmail.com

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