Newspaper watch: Falling for spin on Somalia

  • 17 January 2007
  • test

On Thursday 2 January, the Irish Examiner described how “Somali troops” had captured the “last Islamic stronghold” in the country, and  reported how “Somali prime minister Ali Mohamed Gadi” had declared that “the warlord era in Somalia is now over”. An Irish Times headline described how ‘Somalis party again after rout of Islamic Hardliners'; the following days saw the Independent describing the “US hunting Somali al Qaida Suspects”, the Examiner announcing an “assault on the last ‘courts' stronghold in Somalia” and the Irish Times covering the “Somali president's first visit to the capital [Mogadishu]”.

Then, on Wednesday 10 January, all the national broadsheets covered the strikes by “US gunships” against “al Qaida cells in Somalia”, a raid which amounted to “a significant victory in the war on terrorism”, according to the Independent. On 11 January, both the Examiner and the Independent ran stories detailing the success of the strikes, in that the “mastermind of US embassy bombings” had been “killed in Somalia”.

Most of these news reports were taken from the international newswires or from the UK press and it wasn't until Sunday 14 January that an article appeared to provide the public with some context and analysis of the events. Rory Miller's article in the Sunday Business Post described his “cautious optimism” at the reminder that the Bush administration would “hunt down and kill terrorists wherever they may be”. All in all, a rare piece of good news both for Somalia, whose internationally-recognised government had been reinstated, deposing the terrorists, and the US government, who had routed a dangerous al Qaida cell in East Africa.

However, a closer inspection of some of this coverage would have revealed a less optimistic tone – the few quotes from ordinary Somalis ranged in mood from fear to despair. The Examiner quoted a local businessman saying, “Everything is out of control, everyone has a gun and gangs are looting everything now that the Islamists have left”. The dissonance between the positive spin put on events by the Western media and the feelings of Somalis is easy enough to understand once a little bit of context is taken into account.

The so-called Somali government is an unrepresentative body made up of warlords and exiles, formed at a conference in Kenya in 2004 under the patronage of the Ethiopian regime. The Islamic Courts movement was perhaps the least “terrorist” of all the groups in Somalia – they managed to restore civil order after 15 years of warlord rule – and while their particular order may have been fairly repugnant, it was undoubtedly welcomed by the war-weary population. However, they were deemed likely to be inimical to US-Ethiopian interests in the region and thus were deposed by a full-scale invasion by the brutal Ethiopian regime, backed by US naval power.

None of this had anything much to do with al Qaida, whose existence in Somalia is unproven. Somalia has been plunged back into its violent nightmare through an act of blatant aggression without so much as a peep of protest from our compliant media.