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Public Security Vs Individual Rights in Somalia

by Abdiweli Garad
Saturday, April 25, 2020

Fahad Yassin, Director of NISA and Harun Maruf, VOA journalist

Amid the coronavirus pandemic worldwide, countries closed their borders and placed their citizens on more stringent restrictions, forcing both adults and children to stay at home and as a consequence turned houses into schools and workplace sites – the latter if one is still fortunate enough and retained his/her job – to stem the spread of COVID-19. Despite all this, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) has been riding high: enjoying debt relief and territorial gains from Al-Shabab and has been working on to improve state institutions further. While some may view this time-critical examination on Somalia's state-building efforts as a secondary matter; however, ongoing campaigns aimed to reverse gains made over the years makes it necessary to pen down this piece.

Also, one might think of the piece that it was intended to advocate the curtailment of freedom of speech or individual rights. In contrast and as a special note before to embark, the author clarifies that it is not the case. Instead, the piece reviews the reality of the world we are living in and the changes adopted since September 11, to which Somalia is a wedge of it.

More to the point, on April 2, 2020, the Somali National Intelligence Security Agency (NISA) made, in a tweet, a shadowed accusation against Harun Maruf who as, USA embassy in Mogadishu put it while defending the accused, as "one of the most influential Somali journalists." In contrast and in an attempt to shrug off the pressure, Maruf and his colleagues, both Somalis and the so-called WHITE SUV expatriates, set a social media (SM) campaign against NISA's charge. In a bid to discredit any opposition, they labelled Somalis in the social media that did not agree with them as a 'bot', 'troll' -- Paid by FGS and went on up to a point where, to some, they called those who challenged them in the SM as racist.

Hence, using NISA's allegation against Mr Maruf and the unholy campaign to defend him as a case study, this piece aims to examine the paradoxes of Somalia's state-building. On the one hand, the paper scrutinises obdurate Somali elites whom Ken Menkhaus (2003) put it, as a primary factor for delaying Somalia's state to reborn. On the other, how FGS is reluctant to take a stand against intruders and take her responsibility of governing the country very seriously.

Therefore, the central theme this piece examines is why the FGS and NISA, in particular, decided to accuse Harun Maruf as a threat to national security? And why now? With that, the piece aims to explore the combined effort of Somalia's wartime successor elites and WHITE SUV in their retrospective campaign against NISA. Finally, it sheds light on how the Somalis (both locally and diaspora) are not passive in the affairs of state-building of Somalia anymore. Moreover, many people, who get used to the decades-long status quo, found it challenging to swallow.

From the outset, Westphalian states, everywhere, including advocates of democracy, find it challenging to balance freedom of speech and national security, especially at the times of dealing with extremism and foreign threats, which Somalia exemplifies. In this regard, to extrapolate the reasons for the government and why it has threatened the anchor, the following questions beg to find answers.

1.      Is it a pretext intended to silence government critiques by using security sector mechanisms and counter-terrorism laws?

2.      Since the FGS has taken-over new territories that Al-Shabaab (AS) formerly held, could it be the case that NISA has obtained new evidence illuminating that the anchor is a guilty part comparable to AS? Or

3.      Has the commentator befitted a propaganda machine for Al-Shabaab; breached the War-on-Terror (WOT) and Counterinsurgency (COIN) norms, and dithered to share his contacts with NISA, and thus, NISA wants to retaliate him?

First, the piece argues that harmonising freedom of speech and securitisations is somewhat problematic. Chiefly when the antecedent conditions of war and combat engagements are the factors,  they are more complicated than cherry-picking a single and minor aspect, while disregarding the elements that are compelled by the securitisations. Unequivocally, even the liberal world, advocates of the freedom, found it challenging to balance the two paralleling aspects. Henceforth, the following paragraphs draw a few examples where the superpower world could not draw a line between freedom of journalists and combat engagements, which is also the case here and is comparable to NISA versus Maruf saga.

By arguing that "America is not wrong" meaning in the securitisation of Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld, the then USA Defence Secretary, accused Aljazeera media of complicating the USA engagements in Iraq. He continued: "It is the people who are going on television chopping off people's heads, that is wrong." The USA's securitisation anxieties did not stop there. Instead, it allegedly reached to a level, as penned in The Guardian where, Mr Bush Jnr and Blair, the top leaders of the coalition of willing of the US-led Multi-National Force, contemplated "about bombing Al-Jazeera's building in Doha [which] contained in a note of the meeting." Equally so, as published in the MilitaryTimes (on August 15, 2015) the US Defence Department established "guidelines allow[ing] commanders to punish journalists and treat them as "unprivileged belligerents" [especially] if they believe journalists are sympathising or cooperating with the enemy." Hence, to interpret these frustrations and loathed attitudes of administrations towards media outlets and journalists as a mere intention of silencing criticisms alone is a vain proposition.

The examples of Bashir Makhtal, not media related and Tayseer Allouni might be relevant here and be interpreted as a favourable example for Mr Maruf. Makhtal is a Somali born (Somali State) and a Canadian who, including his ancestors, is known for the advocacy of self-determination for the Ogaden region. He was caught in Kenya in 2007 deported to Ethiopia, and after two or so years, an Ethiopian judge court ordered him to serve life imprisonment.  Mr Allouni, on the other, is a Syrian and Spanish national who was a war correspondent in Afghanistan and Iraq working for Aljazeera during the times of the USA interventions. He has also interviewed Osama bin Laden after the fall of the Kabul. Mainly, because of his contacts, the Spanish Judge "ordered Allouni to remain jailed unconditionally on a charge of belonging to the al Qaeda terrorist network." The same judge, however, as quoted by the CNN, described the accused not to be a member of Al-Qaida. Instead, he said: "…while it is true the possible participation of the accused is not directly related to the most serious deeds of murders, kidnappings, etc. of al Qaeda, it is a terrorist organisation that continues to get help -- not only from its traditional members in Afghanistan -- but also from third-level sleeper cells." Both individuals have denied charges and explained cases against them as a political one. Notwithstanding that many people (including the author of this piece) believed that the charges against these men were political. However, that belief alone cannot write-off the dilemma faced by those governments in handling when the conditions of war and freedom of speech meet.

Second, the FGS and her forces (Somali National Army aka SNA) recently took over the control of the Lower Shabelle region (see the FGS press release dated on 17/03/2020), once the breadbasket of the nation. The fertile riverine area was under the control of Al-Shabaab since 2007. Thus, Lower Shabelle was the house of the main, within the state, institutions of Al-Shabaab, including courts and finance. The applicability of changing hands of the region and the threat against Harun Maruf could then pose the questions of why now? After taking over from Lower Shabelle, has the government found new evidence leading to present threats against Mr Maruf? Or, capturing Lower Shabelle and Mr Maruf's threat is a mere coincidence?

Questions such as these are reminiscent of Al-Qaida files and documents, which the USA has said it found from the base of Osama bin Laden after they killed him. From these files, the USA argues that Iran had a collaboration with him, and so it has a case against Iran in associating with Al-Qaida. Equally so, computers of the sleeping cells including the death of Fazul Abdullahi, a former Al-Shabaab commander and the head of Al-Qaida in East African, in the hands of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) forces show puzzle. Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the then president of the TFG, has disclosed in a televised press about the plans and documents attained from the corpse of Mr Fazul Abdullahi, which he said was useful for the future operations.

Third, as noted earlier, since September 2011, so many things have changed from world-systems, including the liberal states: to manage and to balance individuals' rights and public safety. This failure of balance out has resulted in the governments to curtail some part of the individual's rights: spying personal phones, checking websites browsed, lists goes on until snooping even shopping lists. Hence, when public safety and individual rights collide, a new norm mainly driven by the WOT and COIN prevails worldwide. These unique adaptations affect the form of life. Thus, it is not a surprise one to expect 'militaristic' terms from a traffic police officer, as Seth Harp exemplified from the behaviour of customs officers at the Austin Texas. The implications of such a phenomenon had impacted people's professional life: doctors, teachers, lawyers, journalists, you name it. That means journalists must look at their contacts and outcome of what they are producing or broadcasting rather than how exciting news it may be or otherwise they could potentially be in trouble. One good example here is the UK's MI5 "opened a file on Jeremy Corbyn", the UK's Labour leader until April 05 2020, "amid concerns over his links to the IRA" which The Telegraph wrote on May 19 2017.

Another scathing example is dawn in the 'Terrorism and the Media: A Handbook for Journalists' published by UNESCO, under subsection: 'Visiting [reporting from] areas controlled by terrorist groups.' The subdivision explains potential risks involving reporting in certain areas. Also, how are the traits and tastes of reporting from warzone areas have changed gradually? The UNESCO guide takes the Summer 2014 voyage of "Medyan Dairieh [of Vise News], an experienced war correspondent, spent three weeks embedded within ISIS forces in Syria", as an example and made number of observations including the following question:

"To what extent, then, did Vice News become the propagandist of a terrorist organisation interested in recruiting foreign fighters and showing the State-like nature of its power over a swathe of Syria and Iraq?"

Mr Dairieh, in contrast, claimed that he wants to report from all sides. However, his reports have attracted challenges, and when put before other experts including German and France academics who also have in-depth knowledge of the region and are subject matter experts, their analyses concluded that he was  "…useful idiot'; a conveyer of terrorist propaganda". Similarly, Walter Laqueur (1999) wrote that journalists are friends of terrorists and "are willing to give terrorist operations maximum exposure", but Rodgers (2012) outlines that it is the responsibility of the journalists if they give "oxygen" to terrorists.

The list of the other democratic countries facing a similar dilemma is long, and to mention only a few include UK, France, Mexico, Brazil, India, Pakistan and many more.

Therefore, to lambast the NISA and condemn her as she is silencing journalism and freedom of speech or democracy while disregarding other factors, is the most basic form in explaining the saga holistically. Simply, the authors of the basic form - from Washington to Oxford to Nairobi and Mogadishu, have spared no second before excoriating NISA and its leadership. Henceforth, they concluded that the threat presented against the journalist as a threat against individual rights, democratisation and freedom of speech. Nonetheless, if we assume this narrative as plausible, it is also worthwhile to envisage how other securitisation agencies similar to NISA or otherwise, in the other Westphalian states, would address the dilemma of public security and freedom speech.

Having examined the dilemma of balancing individual rights and public security and how it affects typical professional life deduced from the newly adopted norms propelled by the WOT and COIN. It is evidential that forces of the pre-existing elites and optimistic Somalis will inevitably collide in the forthcoming statebuilding of Somalia. Few examples are worth noting here:

First, for whatever the reason, Somalia is somewhat taking some of their governing roles, managing bilateral agreements, showing the other world prospects of progress and trustworthiness. This momentum has encouraged the Somalis (locally and diaspora), to refuse to remain passive in the affairs of their country. Even though they understand how fragile the state and its authority, yet again, they realised that they could be the difference. Nevertheless, their resilience and hopes are facing challenges and negative campaigns orchestrated by the Nairobi based INGOs and WHITE SUV, including particular diplomatic missions who transported their narrative to the local agencies in Mogadishu to do the groundwork. Classic examples of these are  Sheikh Abdi Hersy's justifications and reasons for supporting the current government after interest groups called him a 'bot', available on his Facebook channel, and Rooble Melvin's tweet captioned here.

Second, when the state of Somalia collapsed due to internal-conflict and in the hands of diversified warlords, the international community (IC) and donors looked-for a near-base so that humanitarian and other aids can reach the needed ones. Thence, most of the regional countries: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, in particular, put themselves as a candidate; hence Nairobi was the best pick, and it became to the international hub for the aids intended to help the war-ravaged country. This hub, however, formed go-between beneficiaries representing all sorts of professions: as analysts, pseudo-NGOs, observers and all kinds of war profiteers. These beneficiaries in the epoch of the state failure have noticed that the said progress would hinder their decades-long of milking Somalia. Therefore, to prevent it happening, they set up narratives labelling to those whose views divers to their disparaging terms including: 'bot, payee or alike' intended to cause fear to the palpable mass.

Therefore, despite being feeble and reliant on foreign aids, this piece recommends the FGS to take her responsibilities more rigorously and assure the public that she is there for them. For instance, to contend with the dual-track policy, which allows liberty that is outside the sharp and diplomatic boundaries to some foreign missions, including the USA, UK, EU and the region, which only pursue the interests of their purposes. It thus may exacerbate delegitimising the authority of the FGS if not contribute the AS. Also, as David Lake (2016) rightly noted, in his dilemma of Statebuilding, the FGS needs not to allow a room for the spoilers and instead:

"To earn legitimacy from [the] society, the state must produce enough cooperation and ensure that everyone gets a sufficient share to induce groups to accept its authority and, in turn, to work within rather than challenge its rules."

Abdiweli Garad is a PhD Candidate in Political Science and International Studies (POLSIS) at the University of Birmingham, UK. He can be reached the following emails: [email protected] or [email protected]


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