Sabahi online is a website that began reporting on Somalis and the Horn Africa in Feb 2012. Many Somalis believe that it is owned by the CIA and therefore find its contents questionable. Its own website says it belongs to the American military. Whichever the case might be, it is owned by the US government. Although it mostly covers the Horn of Africa, its Somali coverage is what concerns us here.
Three things stand out about Sabahi Online’s Somali coverage. One, it has an obvious anti-al-Shabaab slant (we shall not focus on this aspect of Sabahi Online here because it was already adequately covered by the Associated Press in its report “US military behind Africa news websites”
Two, Sabahi Online constantly tries to promote Somalia’s Federal Government and habitually prettifies the situation in the south. To achieve this goal, it routinely deploys some of the oldest propaganda techniques such as repeating something so often that people would eventually accept it as true. By constantly projecting a positive picture of Somalia’s Federal Government and the south, Sabahi Online is apparently hoping that its readers would come to believe that things are on the up and up in Mogadishu. The paucity of good news from the south is no obstacle for Sabahi Online either, because it simply turns bad news into good news. For example, when AMISOM troops are accused of rape, Sabahi Online runs an article with the title “AMISOM to investigate rape allegations” thus shifting the focus from the rape itself to AMISOM’s claim to investigate it. Another example is the crash of the Ethiopian military plane in Mogadishu. Sabahi Online’s headline on this incident was “The Somali government appointed a committee to investigate the cause of an Ethiopian military plane crash at Mogadishu airport on Friday.” Again here Sabahi Online is deflecting the focus from the crash itself to what Somalia’s government will do about it, thus giving the misleading impression that Somalia has a government with both the capacity and the will to address serious or highly technical matters.
The third characteristic of Sabahi Online that stands out, and that concerns us the most, is its negative attitude toward Somaliland. The first evidence for this is the minuscule number of news stories from Somaliland compared with Somalia that get published in Sabahi Online. Moreover, even the few items about Somaliland that they publish are disproportionately negative, and are about such topics as AIDS in Somaliland, and with titles like “Rape on the rise in Somaliland region as perpetrators receive leniency.”
In its zealous and heavy-handed attempts to give a negative picture of Somaliland, Sabahi Online has no problem breaking established journalistic conventions. For example by and large Somalilanders refer to their country as the Somaliland Republic, whereas some of the international news outlets call it the self-declared Republic of Somaliland or note that it is not internationally recognized. Sabahi Online does not follow any of that established practices, instead it routinely dubs Somaliland the “Somaliland region”, calls Somaliland’s government “regional government” and describes ministers in Somaliland’s government as “regional ministers.” As a matter of fact, Sabahi Online’s obsession with depicting Somaliland as a region is so strong that when it quotes news items or articles about Somaliland from other sources that do not refer to Somaliland as a region, it inserts the word “region” in brackets.
As part of its overall hostility to Somaliland, Sabahi Online habitually distorts the positions and views of Somaliland’s people and their government. A good example is its characterization of the talks between Somaliland’s government and the government of Somalia as talks about unity with such titles as “Somaliland region welcomes continuation of unity talks with federal government.” This title is deliberately misleading in that it makes it seem as if Somaliland is seeking unity with the south, when in fact Somaliland sees itself as an independent state, separate from the Somalia, and the purpose of the talks from Somaliland’s perspective was for the Federal Government to agree to Somaliland’s status as an independent country.
When Sabahi Online cannot find anything to distort, it simply fabricates non-existent quotes such as this one, “Somaliland regional Foreign Minister Mohamed Bihi Yonis on Tuesday (August 20th) said his government was willing to continue unity talks with the Somali federal government,Somaliland Press reported”. The fact of the matter is that neither the Foreign Minister nor Somaliland Press said the talks are about unity with Somalia, but that seems not to matter to Sabahi Online.
Another blatant example of Sabahi Online’s propaganda techniques of telling half-truths which are designed to make a bigger lie more palatable, is its claim that Somaliland’s Foreign Minister, Muhammad Bihi Yonis “travelled to Nairobi this week to meet with European Union officials to discuss economic and unification issues.” It is true that Mr Yonis traveled to Nairobi. It is also true that he discussed economic issues with the European officials, but he did not discuss unification issues. What makes this claim even more absurd is that the main reason Yonis was appointed to his post is because as a former senior UN official, he is perceived as someone who could help Somaliland achieve its objective of international recognition, not unity with Somalia.
The points we raised and the examples we gave represent only a small portion of what Sabahi Online has been peddling and are by no means exhaustive. The question that needs to be answered is whether Sabahi Online reflects US policy or whether it inadvertently hired Somalis who have an axe to grind with Somaliland and who are spin-doctoring news and information to hurt Somaliland’s image. Both the syntax and diction used by the reporters in Sabahi Online’s Somali section is that of southern Somalis , and not that of Somalilanders, which may explain what is happening. But regardless of the reasons behind Sabahi Online’s consistent hostility to Somaliland, the existence of that hostility is undeniable. The question that Sabahi Online has to answer is this: is it in the interests of the US for a US government-owned news organization to alienate the people of Somaliland? Or does Sabahi Online think that Somalilanders are too stupid to notice and understand what it is up to?
The fact of the matter is that enough Somalilanders have noticed the game Sabahi Online is playing and they don’t like it one bit. The next step is for Somaliland’s foreign ministry to formally protest to the US government the aggressively hostile and distorted coverage of Somaliland’s affairs by Sabahi Online; and for Somalilanders in the US to inform their elected representatives of this blatant misuse of $3 million of tax dollar money every year.
The word Sabah in Arabic means morning. And it is about time that Somalilanders tell Sabahi Online that they don’t like what it is dishing out about Somaliland, morning or night, and that it is time for it to smell the coffee and desist from its hostile and harmful coverage.