January 21 marks Press Day in Somalia, the most dangerous country in Africa to be a journalist. As such, few local journalists find much reason to celebrate. With nine Somali journalists killed in the line of duty last year, numerous local journalists have fled, especially from the restive capital, Mogadishu. “The free media is going to die out,” journalist Mustafa Haji Abdinur warned Ron Hill in an MSNBC interview last year after he received CPJ’s 2009 International Press Freedom Award.
Abdinur, an Agence France-Presse correspondent and editor-in-chief of local radio station Radio Simba, was the first Somali journalist to win our award. His courage and determination to continue reporting in a country that Oxfam has called “the worst humanitarian situation in Africa in many years,” made him an excellent choice.
After flying to New York City to receive his CPJ award, Abdinur did something that surprised most of his colleagues: He returned home. “For many people here, they thought returning from America to Mogadishu at this time was like preferring death than life,” he told me recently, “but they still appreciate my decision to work in my restive capital with the risks at hand.”
Abdinur launched a new initiative this week—the Somali Media for Peace and Development. Since 2003, Abdinur has been planning on a peace initiative using the media to help end the violence he has experienced his entire life. “I did a lot of research on this idea and was surprised to see that no peace initiatives actively involved the media,” said Abdinur, who is continuing his AFP and Radio Simba work as well. “To me, a peace initiative without involving the media is like tea without sugar.”
Although diminishing in numbers, independent journalists still play an influential role with the population. “People are now accustomed to getting information through the local media. We hope to influence the attitudes and behavior of conflict-affected communities across Somalia to seek non-violent solutions through the media—and to empower the media to follow suit.”
Considering all the dangers journalists face in Somalia, why begin a new initiative now? “I can simply say nothing is safe in Somalia at this time,” Abdinur told me. “If you stay in your house and speak to nobody without doing anything, you will find someone who is not pleased with your existence—so, in this culture, we need to push for peace more than ever.”