Good morning, it is a pleasure to speak to you today at the invitation of AMISOM and I would like to thank and express my appreciation to the office of the SRCC for organizing this timely important strategic Communications Master Class here in Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia.
On behalf of the Federal Government of Somalia, I welcome you all to Mogadishu. I especially welcome the Deputy Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission of Hon Mulongo, whose presence, along with my own, is a clear indication of how seriously the Federal Government and our African brothers in AMISOM are treating Strategic Communication in Somalia.
I also welcome our guest speakers and other participants who have travelled from Kenya, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States. First and foremost, though, I welcome you all, as fellow communications professionals.
Over the next two days I hope you all will be stimulated by the presentations and discussions, possibly even learning something new about Strategic Communication. I encourage you to participate and share your experience. I would also highlight the social and the networking aspect of the next two days – during the various breaks and evening events, I encourage you to form relationships with your counterparts and maybe even make new friends. It is a lot easier to work with friends.
The reason I say this is that it can sometimes seem that we are all working to different agendas in what we do and in what we communicate. AMISOM’s priority might be, for example, the smooth transition of security to the Somali National Security Forces; UNSOM’s priority might be the delivery of a one man – or woman – one vote election in 2020; individual Ministries and even departments within the Federal Government might have completely different priorities from each other. But we are all pursuing the same goal, a Somalia that is stable, secure, self-sustaining and at peace with itself, with its neighbours in the region and in the world as a whole.
The Ministry of Information is leading the fight in the information war and is responsible for all strategic communications of the Federal Government of Somalia. As part of this, we have at our disposal a number of organic capabilities: Somali National Television (SNTV), Radio Mogadishu, SNA Radio, the Somali National News Agency (SONNA) and a major web and social media presence that play significant role towards public awareness campaign and to give hope and prosperity to the people of Somalia. The Information Support Team (IST) that supports AMISOM and UNSOM and the Ministry of Information need to have an excellent partnership working in order to achieve our mutual goals.
Somalis are an oral society; therefore, media plays a pivotal role and is an essential service for the development of the society. Somalis thrive on information. In the past it was through poems and songs that were passed from camel herder to camel herder, down through generations. These days Somalis continue to thrive the use of media via the radio or television or cellphone and social media. As a result Somalis consume news voraciously. Over the past quarter of a century of lawlessness and chaos has not affected Somalis love with communications and its technology. A Somali might lack a roof on his house, but he will have a cellphone.
In Somalia the reason we are focusing on the information war is to win the hearts and minds of Somali people. When the people believe the government has won and Al-Shabaab have lost, then we can truly say that we have won.
That is why it is important that we have coordinated communications. We have only one enemy, and that enemy is violent extremism in the form of Al-Shabaab. It is an enemy that seeks out signs of disunity.
But, in spite of all their atrocities and all their lies, we can learn a lot from our common enemy in the way they communicate. They are good at communicating. But don’t misunderstand me, they are not better than us.
They communicate in quantity, something we sometimes forget as we strive to create things of quality, beauty, and perfection. They communicate through actions and images, when we often focus on primarily on words. Of course they know their audience because they know themselves. But there is no reason why we cannot do all these things as well.
The one thing Al-Shabaab does that we cannot do is lie. There is an old Somali proverb, ‘the well told lie outruns the truth’, or ‘if a lie speeds fast then the truth will not catch up’ and I think that must be written on the wall in big letters in Al-Shabaab’s communications office.
But that is not an option for us as the institutions of government and the international community. The world right now is caught in a storm of fake news, and Somalis have always preferred a juicy rumour to dry facts anyway.
But we have so much truth to tell and Al-Shabaab has so many lies to be exposed. We need much more truth and much more calling out of Al-Shabaab lies. To win the information war, we need the sheer volume of our messages to drown out Al-Shabaab and force them into irrelevancy.
We have before us an opportunity to write a new, positive chapter, in our proud country’s history. After a tragic conflict that lasted too long, Somalia has turned a corner and there is no going back
We are making incremental progress on all fronts – improving security, drafting a new constitution, promoting national reconciliation and improving governance. There is still a long way to go, and it is going to be a difficult journey, but together we can complete these tasks.