Somalia: Government minister backs up radical Islamists’ music ban

5 May 2010
Somalia’s Minister of Information has backed up the radical Islamists’ music ban in Mogadishu and in this way countermanded a government order to radio stations to play music or face closure. This turnaround expose a difference of religious opinion in the government, writes Freemuse’s Somalia analyst Abdulkadir M. Wa’ays

By Abdulkadir M. Wa’ays

On 20 April 2010, the National Security Agency took action against four privately owned radio stations based in the small area of Mogadishu which is under the control of government and African Union forces. The stations had been failing to abide by a previous government order that demanded them to play music or face closure, not allowing them to cave in to a music ban imposed on the local radio stations in the city by one of the major radical Islamist groups in Somalia, and who are known to stone people to death.

Three of the radio stations – Tusmo, Xurmo, and Voice of Peace – had followed the government’s order to play music, but the manager of Radio Somaliweyn which is also based in the government-controlled territory argued that the lack of security and the loss of advertising income forced him to comply with the ban, and the National Security Agency then demanded his station to close its broadcast. But, just a few hours later, the Minister of Information backed up the radical Islamists’ music ban, citing “freedom of the press” and countermanding the orders — a quick and anticipated turnaround that exposed a difference of religious opinion within the government.

The order issued to Radio Somaliweyn by the National Security Agency.
The order is addressed to Radio Somaliweyn and Radio Tusmo, but it demands
Somaliweyn to close.

Resumed operations
The Somaliweyn radio station had only been off-air in 20 minutes at the time when the government appeared to change its mind, and the station then resumed broadcasting, after the Minister of Information had issued the following statement: “I inform the radio stations closed today that they can resume their operations.”

Associated Press reported that Sheikh Dahir had suggested that the National Security Agency may have acted independently when it issued the order to the four radio stations in the government-controlled area to play music.

“The Somali government is not happy with the oppression of the media and will always work toward creating an enabling environment where it can operate freely,” Sheikh Dahir was quoted as saying.

Union of the Islamic Courts
The information minister previously had been quoted as saying that the series of bans on the independent media was “an assault on press freedom and freedom of speech.”

In 2006, Sheikh Dahir Mohamud Gelle was a senior official in the Union of the Islamic Courts, UIC, whose militiamen seized and ruled large parts of the country including the capital Mogadishu for six months, and imposed a strict form of Islamic law, notably banning music, cinemas, and all music-related events. Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces ejected them from power in December the following year. The current President of Somalia was then the leader of the Union of the Islamic Courts.

Holy Koran Radio
In Somalia, an intensified propaganda war has been raging over airwaves since 2001, with over 14 radio stations operating in Mogadishu alone. Radio — as opposed to the print media and tv broadcasting — remains the dominant medium in the country which has not seen a functioning central government since 1991.

According to the BBC Monitoring Africa’s Somalia Media Guide 2007, some owners of Mogadishu-based media outlets were allies of the Union of the Islamic Courts administration: “One of these was the former director of Holy Koran Radio, Sheikh Dahir Mohamud Gelle [the current Minister of Information], who vanished at the same time as other Islamic leaders at the end of 2006.”

Established in Mogadishu in 1990s as the first music-free Islamic radio station in Somalia, the Holy Koran Radio is located in the midst of the areas in Mogadishu which are controlled by al-Shabaab, a radical Islamist group with ties with al-Qaeda.

Clan affiliation
“Al-Shabaab and Hisbul Islam have never threatened, attacked, or closed this radio station, despite their knowledge that the owner is a senior official in the “apostate government” on which they have been waging war to topple and replace it with an Islamic Emirate,” said a number of local journalists in Mogadishu who spoke on condition of anonymity:

“The President of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, his Minister of Information, Sheikh Dahir Mohamud Gelle, the top commanders for Hisbul Islam and al-Shabaab in Mogadishu, Ma’allin Hashi Mohamed Farah and Sheikh Ali Mohamed Hussein — they are all members of the Abgaal clan — a main support base of the Somalia’s two major Islamists groups.”

The two major radical Islamist groups, al-Shabaab and Hisbul Islam, now control most of the south and central regions of Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu.

The music ban
14 privately owned radio stations in the capital turned off music on 13 April 2010, after the top commander for Hisbul Islam in Mogadishu, Ma’allin Hashi Mohamed Farah, issued on 3 April 2010 a 10-day ultimatum to the Mogadishu-based radio stations to stop airing all kinds of music or face unspecified Sharia-based penalties.

Odd sounds like the roar of an engine, a car horn, animal noises and the sound of water flowing are used instead of music to introduce radio programmes.

“We have replaced the music of the early morning program with the sound of the rooster, replaced the news music with the sound of the firing bullet and the music of the night program with the sound of running horses,” told Osman Abdullahi Gure, the director of Radio Shabelle, which is one of the most influential stations in Mogadishu.

The Islamist group also banned Mogadishu’s radio stations from using the word ‘foreigners’ to refer to “their Muslim brothers who came from outside the country to help them fight against the enemy of Allah.”


Sheikh Dahir Mohamud Gelle, Minister of Information of the Somali government

Presenter and producer Sahra Mohamud Ali reads news at Radio Shabelle in Mogadishu in mid-2009. Before Sahra fled Somalia, she was one of Freemuse’s contacts in Mogadishu.Photo

Read Abdulkadir M. Wa’ays’ Somalia analysis

7 April 2010:

‘Music ban on radio stations was expected’


Washington Post – 5 May 2010:

‘In Somalia, Islamist militias ban music from the radio’

Associated Press (Fox News) – 20 April 2010:

‘Somalia hits pause on edict that radio play music’

The New York Times – 20 April 2010:

‘Somalia: Off Again, on Again Radio’

AFP (San Francisco Examiner) – 20 April 2010:

‘Battle of the bans: Somali govt backs off order that radio stations ignore Islamist music ban’

Taragana Blog – 20 April 2010:

‘Battle of the bans: Somali govt backs off order that radio stations ignore Islamist music ban’

Afrique en Ligne – 19 April 2010:

‘Somali journalists ‘alarmed’ over govt threat to shut radio stations’

International Press Institute – 19 April 2010:

‘Somalia Government Threatens to Close Radio Stations Complying…’

The New York Times – 13 April 2010:

‘Somali Radio Stations Halt Music’

The Guardian – 13 April 2010:

‘Somali radio stations bow to Islamist ban on music’

Gabiley News – 13 April 2010:

‘Somali radio stations comply with Islamists’ music ban’

Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation – 13 April 2010:

‘Musikkforbud i Somalia’  ‘Music ban in Somalia’

Entertainment Daily – 13 April 2010:

‘The day the music died: Somali radio stations heed Islamist order to stop playing songs’

Agence France Presse, AFP – 13 April 2010:

‘Somalia Islamists force music off air’

BBC News – 7 April 2010:
‘Somali anger at threat to music’

Click to listen / right-click to download mp3 audio file   Somalisan – recording of Hashi Mohamed Farah’s press conference in Mogadishu:
‘Shirkii jaraid ee macalin xaashi maxamed Faarax oo dhameystiran halkaan ka dhagyso’ – 5 April 2010:

‘Somalia: Islamist Group Orders Mogadishu Radios to Stop Airing Music’

Daily Nation – 4 April 2010:

‘No music, Somali radio ordered’

Ritzau / Jyllands-Posten – 4 April 2010: (In Danish language)

‘Islamister i Somalia: Slut med musik’

National Union of Somali Journalists – 3 April 2010:

‘Mogadishu Media Houses Ordered to End Broadcasting Music and Songs’

Somalisan – 3 April 2010:

‘Xisbul Islaam oo amaro culus ku soo rogay Idacadaha ku yaala…’

BBC News – 12 March 2010:

‘Mogadishu residents told to leave Somali capital’

ReliefWeb – United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia – 10 March 2010:

‘Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia pursuant to Security Council resolution 1853 (2008) (S/2010/91)’

Time – 19 May 2009:

‘In Somalia, Another Government Teetering?’

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