Critical voices in the East African media—whether in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, or Uganda—have been intimidated, banned, blocked, and beaten prior to elections in recent years. Somalia is so embroiled in conflict that even the concept of having elections remains a faraway dream. But in late June, the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland in northern Somalia managed to hold relatively peaceful and free elections with decent media coverage, local journalists and election observers told CPJ.
“Given the poor
resources and training of the journalists here,” BBC reporter Jamal Abdi told
CPJ, “the local media did a remarkably good job covering the elections and
polling across Somaliland’s six polling
opposition leader Mohamed Silyano from the Kulmiye Party defeated
outgoing president Dahir Riyale, who honored his pre-vote pledge to accept
the results and leave office peacefully.
everything has been rosy. For one, the June 26 elections were postponed three
times—they were originally supposed to take place more than two years ago. And
throughout the process, local journalists told CPJ, high tensions simmered
between the government and the media. In early June, police detained several
journalists for a day after they took pictures of former presidential guards
attacking opposition party supporters who had displayed an opposition flag,
local journalists told CPJ.
Police detained Al-Jazeera
reporter Mohammed Adow for two hours prior to the election results after he
visited a politically sensitive border area where territorial disputes exist
between Somaliland and the semi-autonomous
region of Puntland, local journalists told CPJ. Security agents also detained independent website Editor Hadis Mohamed, originally from Mogadishu, during the election for “serious crimes” that were never detailed. “I have been arrested seven
times over the past few years without any reason ever given or attending
court,” Mohamed told CPJ. “Our website, Baadiya, is targeted because we gave
equal coverage for the political rally activities wherever possible.”
journalists also told CPJ they felt the media’s coverage was politically
polarized. The state press was biased toward the former president while the
independent press favored the opposition parties. With limited independent
media coverage outside the capital, Hargeisa, the state-run Radio Hargeisa (the
only station officially allowed to broadcast in Somaliland)
provided coverage biased toward Riyale outside the city, the BBC’s Abdi said.
Still, the Netherlands-based opposition Radio
Horyaal managed to broadcast in remote areas of Somaliland
where Radio Hargeisa could not reach, the editor of the private newspaper Heegan, Mohamed Amin, told CPJ.
In comparison to
greater Somalia, however,
where insurgents banned viewing the World
Cup and a near-powerless government continues
to arrest journalists for negative coverage, Somaliland’s
media scene appears robust. Journalists were allowed to move freely throughout
the polling stations without hindrance, Associated Press reporter Mohamed Olad
The public and
local press feared violence after two former ruling party officials alleged
there had been vote rigging in favor of the opposition in five precincts, Abdi
told CPJ. “But I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the offices of Radio
Hargeisa,” Abdi said. “I found Radio Hargeisa staff actually complaining that
the allegations were false and could lead to post-election violence.” Even
Riyale supporters objected to the allegations and the two officials were arrested,
How has Somaliland kept the elections and its media coverage
relatively peaceful? “They have learned from example—the bad example of their
neighbors,” said Olad, who often reports
in the war-torn Somali capital, Mogadishu.
Somaliland has become a haven for exiled Mogadishu
journalists fleeing the fighting in Somalia, where 33 journalists have
been killed for their work
Somaliland journalists told me they now hope
government and media relations will improve under Silyano. Whereas Riyale was a
former intelligence official and wary of the press, Mohamed said, Silyano was more open with the press as an
opposition party leader. “But let’s wait and see,” a cautious Amin told me, as
opposition leaders often change their spots once they attain power. A once-popular
Senegalese opposition leader, Abdoulaye Wade, had promised upon his 2000
presidential election to
decriminalize libel laws against the press. A disgruntled local Senegalese
press, who had strongly supported his 2000 candidacy, is still waiting.
(Reporting from Nairobi)
EDITOR'S NOTE: The fifth paragraph has been corrected to clarify that Mohammed Adow was held for two hours and that Hadis Mohamed edits Baadiya.