Somalia: Freemuse analysis: Music ban on radio stations was expected
On 3 April 2010, the top commander for Hisbul Islam in Mogadishu, Ma’allin Hashi Mohamed Farah, issued a 10-day ultimatum to the Mogadishu-based radio stations to stop airing all kinds of music or face unspecified Sharia-based penalties. A regional analyst, Abdulkadir M. Wa’ays, writes in this article that the ban will mean nothing for the one-million war-stricken residents – including the Somali musicians in Mogadishu, whose basic rights to practicing their professional artistic skills have long been deprived by all the parties to the conflict in Somalia.
By Abdulkadir M. Wa’ays
Surrounded by hundreds of heavily armed teenagers from his clan militia inside a bullet-ridden former police station in Hodon district in Mogadishu – where just the previous day his militia had been fiercely engaged over its control with another pro-government clan militia led by a former insurgent-warlord-turned minister, Yusuf Siyad Indha’adde – Ma’allin Hashi Mohamed Farah issued a 10-day ultimatum to the Mogadishu-based radio stations to stop broadcasting any kind of music:
“We call on the local radio stations to stop airing the songs and all kinds of music including the signature tunes for the radio programmes. We give them a 10-day deadline and any radio station found not complying with the orders will subsequently face sharia action,” he said. “We are a Muslim society and music being of un-Islamic Western value is an evil that we must forbid in our society.”
Two major Islamist groups With two decades of clan-based hybrid warfare, ruined streets and bombed-out buildings, reduced by shellfire to rubble or barely a building-like shape, the war-riven Somali capital Mogadishu is now populated by less than one million people. The few blocs controlled by the country’s beleaguered government aside, Mogadishu is now in the hands of two major Islamist groups, Hisbul Islam and al-Shabaab, whose stated goal is to topple and replace the current government with an Islamic Emirate. Displacements, killings, and shelling the civilians by all parties to the conflict are almost daily occurrences.
Over the past six weeks alone, the United Nations Refugee Agency estimated that some 33,000 people were driven from their homes, after the Mogadishu Mayor for government had ordered them to do so in anticipation of a long-publicized but unrealistic rhetoric of an upcoming government offensive to flush out the Islamist groups from Mogadishu.
The decision by the Islamist group to ban the Mogadishu-based radio stations from airing music came as no surprise to the war-stricken residents and the musicians in Mogadishu. It was widely seen as a long overdue step that the Islamist groups could have taken a long time ago had they wished so. Aside from the few blocs controlled by the government, the Somali Islamist groups have been ruling the city since January 2009.
Instrument-free jihadi songs Over the past four years, the militias from the Islamist groups were relentlessly engaged in an extensive campaign to destroy the music shops in Mogadishu, crack down on musicians with targeted killings, intimidation, injuries, and deprivation of their basic rights to work and express themselves freely, broke up wedding celebrations and so forth.
“Whether you like it or not, soon, the Somali music is going to be a history,” one of the Somali journalists in Mogadishu, whose radio station was among those banned from playing music, said on condition of anonymity.
“What is happening here is nothing but a cultural cleansing campaign being carried out not only by way of force but also through psychological warfare against music and musicians. In Mogadishu, the majority of the young men and women in their twenties have been led into believing that music is un-Islamic and the musicians are immoral outcasts.”
“In place of music and songs, jihadi Somali poems and instrument-free Arabic nasheeds (Islamists’ songs) and selective jihadi sermons are now blaring from the houses, food restaurants, public transport and pirate vehicles, teashops, personal cell phones, and even from some local radio stations in Mogadishu,”the radio journalist reported.
In its 3 April press release, the National Union of the Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) wrote, “Similar addicts have been imposed on the media stations in the southern Somalia regions by Al-Shabaab, causing the journalists to flee or become Al-Shabaab hostages.”
Wahabi Salafi movement The decision by the Islamist group to ban the Mogadishu-based radio stations from playing music was seen by most of the Somalia watchers as yet another success story resulting from a three-decade anti-music campaign by the Somali Wahabi Salafi movement across the county.
While some are more radical than others, the current Somali Islamist groups are nothing but the successors to the previous al-Itihad Islami, which was founded in Mogadishu in 1983, as opposed to the conventional wisdom emanating from political considerations that the Somali Islamist groups including the radical group al-Shabaab came out of the blue, or from the mountains of Afghanistan.
Jihadi sermons aired The National Union of the Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) condemned strongly the Hisbul Islam’s decision to ban the Mogadishu-based radio stations from playing music and described this action as an indication showing that “the media freedom of Somalia” is completely under siege.
In its press release, NUSOJ said, “six of the eight radio stations under the Hisbul Islam and al-Shabaab-held neighborhoods of Mogadishu, in which five of them are based in Bakaro, will have direct effect of these oppressive addicts.”
However, according to some local journalists in Mogadishu, who spoke on condition of anonymity, some of these radio stations had long tailored their editorial policies to the Islamist groups’ policies, while others have already and exclusively been broadcasting Koranic verses, pro-Islamist programmes, instrument-free Islamist songs and selective jihadi sermons.
Radio as a political ladder The Somali journalists working at the radio stations in Mogadishu are victims of their own employers. Their owners dictate the editorial policies of these radios in line with their personal agendas. Most of the owners of the radio stations in Somalia, if not all, are members from the Somali diaspora, who are directly or indirectly involved in the Somalia’s complex hybrid warfare that conflates religious extremism, political and financial opportunism, and clan interests.
Over the past decade, members from the Somali diaspora were involved in setting up small FM radio stations in Somalia, with the intention to use them as a means to quickly move up the political ladder – a success story in many parts in Somalia.
The local radio stations based in Mogadishu had sidelined reporting on the human rights violations committed against the musicians. Nor the local human rights groups had bothered to record and speak about the plight of the musicians or at least to report such cases to their international rights partner groups. Similarly, the Somali writers groups, community organizations or the like in the diaspora had shied away from writing about, probing up the atrocities inflicted on the musicians as well as the uprooting campaign being waged against their cultural music heritage. Instead, they all opted to confine their activities to poem discussion events, book fairs, and cultural festivals.
This trend may have resulted either from the prevailing collective community censorship against music and the musicians or from fear for their personal safeties. This may also explain why the international human rights groups tend to always miss out the Somali musicians’ cases in their reports on Somalia.
Ma’allin Hashi Mohamed Farah, the top commander for Hisbul Islam in Mogadishu, speaking at the press conference in which he issued a 10-day ultimatum to the Mogadishu-based radio stations to stop broadcasting music
Beleaguered government The current Somali president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a former leader of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), was named president in January 2009. The Western world hoped that as an Islamist committed to restoration of law and order and political dialogue, he might do better than his predecessors at uniting Somalis behind a central administration and bridging the divide between militant Islam and the secular West. By the same token, the majority of the Somali people hoped that, even in the worst case scenario, he might still retain the unanimous support that his Abgaal clan militia and elders had given him during his reign at the Union of the Islamic Courts — but all to no avail.
Accusing him of being an apostate serving the infidel interests, his Abgaal clan militia and their commanders shifted their allegiances to his new rival Islamist groups. It is these clan militia and their commanders who are now ruling Mogadishu and the Middle Shabelle region, the traditional home of the President’s Abgaal clan, on behalf of al-Shabaab and Hisbul Islam. Such a conventional wisdom emanating from political considerations that the Somali Islamist groups including the radical group al-Shabaab came out of the abstract or from the mountains of Afghanistan does not reflect on the reality on the ground in Somalia.
For instance, the top commanders for Hisbul Islam and al-Shabaab in Mogadishu, Ma’allin Hashi Mohamed Farah and Sheikh Ali Mohamed Hussein, are the President’s Abgaal clansmen, and they used to be leading commanders of his clan militia during his reign at the Union of Islamic Courts before he was named president.
The United Nations Somalia Monitoring Group’s report, which was submitted to the UN Security Council on 10 March 2010, describes the Somali Government as a government that has struggled ineffectually and that it “owes its survival to the small African Union peace support operation, AMISOM, rather than to its own troops.”
Ill-intentioned diaspora members Members from the Somali diaspora in the West heavily populate the present government to the extent that the president himself is surrounded by his Abgaal clansmen, who flocked from the West, after he was named president.
The Somali analysts attribute much of this government’s failures to its ill-intentioned diaspora members. Recently, Bashir Goth, a Somali analyst and the former editor of Awdal News, told The Media Line: “Most of the people working for the Transitional Federal Government have been living unemployed in the West. Somalis tend to think anyone who comes from outside should have knowledge so these people get poached but are basically returning for the wrong reason — money — and don’t care about the country because their families are back in Europe or America.”
In sum, the above analysis of the superimposed conflict dynamics of Somalia is essential to an understanding of the challenges the Somali musicians continually face in the Somalia’s hybrid warfare that conflates religious extremism, political and financial opportunism, and clan interests.
In this context, the recent music ban on the Mogadishu-based radio station will mean nothing for the one-million war-stricken residents, including the Somali musicians in Mogadishu. The musicians’ basic right to practice their professional artistic skills have long been deprived.
As far as Freemuse is informed, no radio station intends to overrule the music ban, with the exception of the government-owned one, which is heavily guarded by Ugandan forces.
Photos: on courtesy of photographer who wishes anonymity.
“Deny a Somali his music and his poetry, and you deny him his voice.” Christophe Farah, journalist of Somali descent in London, in BBC News on 7 April 2010.
Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, former Islamist leader and the current president of the Somalia’s beleaguered government
Sheikh Ali Mohamed Hussein, the top commander of al-Shabaab in Mogadishu