The Bariirre incident of 25th August where 10 innocent civilians mostly farmers, among them children and elderly people were massacred has created commutation crisis in the country. The president, four minsters and army commander have released different contradicting statements on this issue immediately without gathering relevant information to feed the public.
The minister of information Abdirahman Osman Yarisow who issued the first statement after the incident has labelled the murdered civilians as members of Al-shabab terrorist “The Somali National Army under the direction of defense forces general Ahmed Mohamed Jimale, and our international partners conducted a security operation early on August 25 near Bariir, lower Shabelle that resulted in the death of eight Al-shabab terrorists. Our security forces go to great length to prevent civilian casualties. No civilians were harmed or killed in this operation”
After he faced huge criticism from the public, the minister released another statement stating that there were two incidents that occurred near Bariire at the same time, one was targeted with Al-shabab terrorists while the other one civilians were mistakenly killed. However, there were no other operations that took place in that area as the local residents confirmed.
Similarly, the defense speaking to VOA Somali service stated that the murdered people were armed militias who confronted the government forces were conducting security operations but he didn’t accuse them as terrorists.
On his side, the president of Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo sent condolences to the families who lost their dear ones during the incident but the statement that was initially published on the Facebook official page of the president was immediately deleted a move which created uncertainty.
Later, the commander of Somali National Army general Ahmed Mohamed Jimale, accused the ministers of disseminating inaccurate information to the public. He added that the murdered people were civilians who died in an operation that was conducted mistakenly without further mentioning the existence of other operations in Bariire contrary to the statement of information minister.
This confusion that resulted from the contradicting statements of the government officials has created great concern to the families who lost their dear ones.
In that regard the families refused to bury the bodies of their members until the federal government takes the responsibility of the joint military crackdown. The government of Somalia has not yet claimed the responsibility of the incident nor did it mention the role of US forces in the operation.
The U.S. Africa Command said on Friday U.S. forces were involved in the Bariire operation in a supporting role and it was investigating reports of civilian casualties as Reuters reported.
Government bans ministers from using media without consent (Correction of a mistake with a mistake)
A statement from the office of the deputy prime minister of Somali federal government Mahdi Mohamed Guleed has banned the cabinet ministers from giving statement on TVs, radios and even posting on social media without consent from prime minister’s office. This seems to be a comeback to the statements given by some cabinet ministers concerning the killings of innocent civilians (farmers) at Bariire town, lower Shabelle region on 25th August which the federal government finally confirmed.
It is obvious that were it not the unnecessary use the media by the ministers on this current issues the situation could have ease as it is now. The public and anyone who is concerned with this incident will understand how the government is confused with the use of media while conveying the general information that the public needs to know. However, my aim is not to talk about the mistakes made by the ministers but we want to look at this issue that is seen as correction of a mistake with mistake in which the statement from the office of the deputy prime minister prohibited the ministers from giving report about the government business on the different types of media.
Off course, the government officials have made this decision to respond to the mistakes that have taken place concerning Bariire incident and previous ones in which the ministers have had connection, but is this the right way to correct the problems the government faces on media usage or it is a correction of a mistake with a mistake?
The few points listed below are aimed at correcting the mistakes made but it is not the right process to deal with issues when such situation arises, we can say that the two mistakes mentioned earlier, the later one is big and can lead to other mistakes that cannot be controlled.
Breach against the constitution
First and foremost, this decision that prohibited the ministers from using media disagrees with the Provisional Federal Constitution in regard to the rights of the public to get information from the government. It [ the government] was to abide by the media law which concerns this issue, as stipulated by article 32 of the Provisional Federal Constitution (1) Every person has the right of access to information held by the state. (2) Every person has the right of access to any information that is held by another person which is required for the exercise or protection of any other just right.
This decision also violates article 37 of media law that clarifies the freedom of journalists especially in clause 2 which states that “The journalist should receive every information so he/she presents it to the society unless there is a legal reason to deny him/her such information”
These constitutional provisions force the government to share its information with the public and media. Nonetheless, the government officials argue that their goal is not to deny the public their right to information or to hide something from them but to sensor information and avoid disorder.
This argument is not correct and cannot be used as a defense to this party as it disagrees with the constitution. The information that the public needs comprises of emergency information and a normal information that can be delayed for some time before it is shared with the public. But for the case of emergency information, the government is required to give full report of an incident to the public as it happens or immediately after it happened. So when the information is hidden from the public or delayed for unnecessary reasons then it totals to breach on the articles of the constitution.
This decision also violates the special rights of the ministers as citizens, concerning the freedom of expressions and opinions, the article 18 of the Provisional Federal Constitution in its Clauses 1 & 2 states that: (1) Every person has the right to have and express their opinions and to receive and impart their opinion, information and ideas in any way. (2) Freedom of expression includes freedom of speech, and freedom of media, including all forms of electronic and web-based media.
Apart from the fact that the ministers should address the media on behalf of the government and their ministries, they have the right to express their views and opinions on the occurring issues and matters whether it concerns their ministries or not, however the statement issued by the deputy prime minister has not specified this issue but only said that the cabinet cannot share government business with the different types of media. At least he was supposed to say that the ministers were outlawed from addressing government issues whether they use national gazettes or their personal accounts.
Technical mistakes This order that bans the ministers from the media stops the government activities concerning the media and encourages fake information that normally comes up whenever there is no accurate information on the table; if reporting the government information needs the consent of Prime Minister’s office, then we clearly know the time it takes for that information to come out.
The order that has forbidden the ministers to give out information without the prior approval of prime minister will also affect the other officers working under them such as the directors, ambassadors, army commanders and the spokesmen of the different ministries who are to pass the same channel of order.
For instance, if explosions occur, the spokesman of the ministry of internal security has to share information on the casualties of the blast with the minister, the minister has to contact the office of prime minister for approval or disapproval, a connection that might take a day or more, this make the information stale and unproductive and also gives room for other parties to spread rumours and propaganda.This is also a censorship to the government officials, it can affect the state-owned media that is seen to report the official statement and the position of the government.
In other words, the letter shows that the ministers cannot be trusted with their responsibilities, because a person who cannot be trusted with information he / she is conveying cannot take decisions that affect the public and the government without consultation with senior officials. If their information was censored it also becomes necessary for the government to check their actions before they reach decision as the ministers are the executive arm of the government that implements activities.
The proper way and the solution
This decision appears to be abrupt order which was issued a time when the government was facing confusion relating to how the government should disseminate its information to the public. To settle down this, taking emotional decisions does not make sense as it make the situation worse. The government was to think wisely before sharing its secrets with the public; it was to share this order with minsters through consultation and participation. What we see is that the public and ministers received the order at the same time.
If the government had no otherwise than this decision, then the procedure followed was not correct; because it was a technical issue, therefore there was no need to be shared with the public, the minsters could be summoned and requested to compromise their personal rights of disseminating information for the sake of common interest so as to overcome the confusion. It was also possible for the decision to be shared with the cabinet through e-mail and other means rather than punishing the cabinet before the public.
For the government to control the information it is disseminating, it should come up with a system which calls for an emergency meeting of the cabinet if something big that needs much attention happens in the country. It has to take concrete decision and agree on what to say on that issue. If the information minister is the real and the only spokesperson for the government he should contact the right sources and search the information and then share the decision and the position of the government with the public in regard to that incident.
For instance the mistake in Barire incident doesn’t mean that unconcerned parties gave statement to the media, but the center of the problem was that the issues was addressed without adequate information in hand than even paying attention to the military command that had the required information. It is not wise to take unconstitutional decision in the name of correcting a certain mistake. Simply this could be fixed if the concerned ministers could be called and held accountable of the incident.
For the government to control the information it is sharing with the public, especially in the social media, which is a powerful tool of spreading information, it can inform the public that information published on the personal accounts of the ministers doesn’t reflect the real position of the government. So any minister who disseminates misleading information to the public should only be blamed by the public alone. Finally, the government needs to make its decisions and actions carefully without rush judgment. The everyday criticism of the public should be seen as constructive which the government has to learn lessons about it.
Abdikasim Moalim Ahmed