By Ibrahim Hussein
It’s out of the question that Mr. Haaruun Macruuf is among the top undisputed senior journalists in Somalia and well respected among the Somali speaking community around the world. On the 2nd of April 2020, the National Intelligence and Security Agency of Somalia (NISA) had warned the public not to associate and collaborate with Haaruun in anyway.
Haaruun Macruuf has a master’s degree in International Journalism from the University City of London. During his career, he generated 30 years of experience in Africa working for different media agencies in different capacities including AP, BBC as a reporter and currently he is a Senior Editor with the VOA Somali Service.
NISA stated in their official Tweeter account that “NISA is taking appropriate legal action against Haaruun Macruuf, who has links to a threat to national security, and has committed acts outside the media discipline. We are partnering with national agencies to be aware of its contacts and to inform the national security sector.” The announcement was made in the public domain of NISA and many people, institutions and the government reacted differently.
Anyway, depending on the analysis through different dimensions and considerations of the issue between Haaruun and NISA is complex and too deep. Before going direct to this topic, I have to make one point clear, that below is my personal opinion and any opinion can be wrong or right. To be more specific, the article isn’t intended to speculate and draw conclusions that influence the public opinion.
In the past, Haaruun, as a journalist working for the VOA, attracted the attention of many Somali speaking audiences around the world in particular the Horn of Africa region, making the VOA as one of the most listened radio program in Somalia, for its timely and factful reporting which Haaruun was at the epicenter due to the wide networks in the region.
Through his initiative Haaruun developed new programs such as the “Galka Baarista” and the “The investigative Dossier”–an impartial investigative program focusing mainly on contentious issues that was of interest to the public. This attracted many audiences due to its coverage on diverse issues from security to accountability such that it brought together all those who were involved in the forum. The program made some of the sides uncomfortable with its discoveries of tangible facts and some specific issues not disclosed to the public before.
The new program had given him the chance to build a wide network that had enabled him the opportunity to solicit and access first hand classified, confidential, buried and sensitive information. The program became the ears and eyes of the public, and the most trusted and dependable source of news. Since its inception, it has unmasked many hidden crimes against humanity that was committed by the members of FGS /State Law enforcement agencies and AMISOM troops; these included unlawful detentions, extra judicial killings, abuse of power and misappropriation of public funds in the circles of the army and security agencies. With the growth of the program and its coverage, Haaruun had won the hearts and minds of victims hence many people came forward as witnesses of the social security cases and other related problems. Many analysts considered that the program was supporting the FGS as a vehicle of information from the citizens. Contrary to that, some of the FGS official felt threatened.
Those who felt threatened started gas-lighting Haaruun’s work and spread rumors suggesting that information from the Galka-Baarista might jeopardize the operation of NISA; citing that some of the information he unearthed to the public could have hindered or implicated the ongoing investigations or operations that were intended to pursue the terrorists or other criminals. At certain stages, the FGS didn’t confront Haaruun, nevertheless their bitterness was boiling. In a tweet castigating NISA’s allegation against Haaruun, the U.S. Embassy in Somalia, reiterated that the “Attack threatens press freedom and independent media as a foundation of democratic, accountable governance in Somalia.”
As his network continued to grow, Haaruun saw another opportunity. The diverse information he was accessing and collecting had given him a golden chance to co-author a book called “Inside Al-Shabaab”. The book revealed credible information inside of Al-Shabaab, and as a result of that, the book was well received in Somalia and the Horn of Africa region at large. In the public eye, Haaruun was considered a hero, however, NISA was not happy and ever since they had an eye on Haaruun’s reports and his sources of information. Considering that, it seems the misunderstanding between him and NISA started to grow, and each side had its own suspicion for the other.
One possible scenario is that whenever he gets sensitive information, he used to publish or aired-out in the radio without consent or approval of the concerned desk; such information could have been classified in the NISA office. Since there is no clear legal framework of investigative Journalism in Somalia, NISA might have felt that he was crossing the line, meaning such unprecedented and continuous practice of journalism could build a case of justification as cover up by the NISA underperforming officers, hence the blame shift game could be that information Haaruun was sharing to the public had given the chance that made- off the hook many criminals.
Traditionally, the African continent had earned the reputation of oppressing journalists and suppressing freedom of speech and Somalia is among countries that scores the highest incidence that affects the safety of the journalists’ work. Bearing in mind that there are also a bunch of journalists in Somalia who are not practicing the ethics of journalism, as a result of that many of them had faced problems.
Nothing can be further from the truth, that the dynamics surrounding NISA communique to the public regarding Haaruun is pointing to one direction which is: “The access and dissemination of sensitive security information to be shared to the public by journalists in Somalia context”, this raises many questions on what is the role of privately owned media and individual freelance?. Which type of sensitive information can media houses televise or publish? Does the government issue media companies any legal documents?
We all know that according to the rule of law, the possession of knowledge and information isn’t a crime unless it’s a risk to the security of the nation. The possibility is that the current allegations by the NISA isn’t more than “His access what NISA is considering the wrongful possession of sensitive information that doesn’t belong to him or his field of journalism”. Furthermore, the differences between Macruuf and NISA was also politicized and further fueled another interested journalist.
Possible Solutions and Way forward
In the case of Somalia, real independent news without barriers is paramount to the entire citizens as a means of mass information sharing to the public, nevertheless, despite that, there is no clear national legal framework system that governs the entire media houses including TVs, Radios, Papers and Online websites. The presence of that gap could also be the major factor that is negatively contributing to the misunderstandings between the media houses and government institutions. Considering that gap factor, legitimately, the responsibility squarely goes to FGS. Therefore, it makes sensible solutions in the event the government works towards the development or strengthening media legal framework systems and its implementations.
Furthermore, in order to minimize similar issues in the future between the security agencies and the media houses, it would be wise for the Ministry of Information to take the lead by creating friendly working environment between the media and concerned the government institutions. The national privately owned media companies and their employees should also know that their companies shouldn’t limit their work as a source of profiteering, but there is another role that they can play as a part of their social responsibility and that is they can work with the government institutions closely by contributing to the restoration of peace and stability in the country.
Ibrahim Hussein is a Humanitarian Worker and a Human Rights Activist operating in the Horn of Africa and East Africa.
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