Basic Data

Official Country Name: Somali Democratic Republic
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 7,253,137


Language(s): Somali, Arabic, Italian,English
Literacy rate: 24%

Background & General Characteristics


Most press activity in Somalia is centered in Mogadishu. Newspapers and magazines are published in English, Somali, and Italian. Different sources claim two to nine daily newspapers operating in Somalia; unfortunately, each report may be accurate depending upon the day figures were gathered and the political situation. These newspapers have limited readership—most under 10,000—and inconsistent circulations due to the conflicts.

The Ministry of Information and National Guidance publishes a variety of weekly and monthly publications, and Xiddigta Oktobar (October Star), a daily Somali language paper. One privately owned newspaper managed to open in 1991, Al Majlis (The Council) and several others have opened between 1997 and 2002. There are many factional papers that are photocopied and have small distributions.

Audience and Language

Though Somali is the official language of the state, Arabic, Italian, and English are also spoken. According to the U.S. Department of State, most of Somalia's 7 million citizens (85 percent) are ethnic Somali; 15 percent are Bantu and Arab. Ninety-nine percent of the population is Sunni Muslim. The work force is 3.7 million: 60 percent pastoral nomads and forty percent agriculture, government, trading, fishing, industry-related to agricultural production, handicrafts, and other areas.

The 1973 introduction of an official Somali orthography based on the Latin alphabet, replacing several older systems, allows the Somali language, with three main dialects and standard usage of Common Somali, to be used throughout the nation. Where language-based prejudice and economic injustice were prevalent prior to 1973, the adoption of an official language allows for wider economic and educational access.

Economic Framework

Somalia is one of the poorest, least developed countries in the world. Agriculture is the most important segment of the economy. A majority of the population is nomadic or semi-nomadic and dependent on livestock. A small sector of the economy processes agricultural products such as sugar, corn, and sorghum; however, the civil war has forced the closing of many of these facilities. There is a small fishing industry on the coast. Livestock and bananas are the main exports.

The advancement and development of Somalia's economy is largely dependent on international assistance because of the internal problems and a significant lack of skilled, literate, and educated workers.

Press Laws

Somalia's Transitional National Government (TNG) had yet to adopt a constitution as of June 2002. The effort to establish a strong federal government is supported by various groups and clans in Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Arab states; the TNG is opposed by Somalia Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC).

The Somali Republic has adopted through referendum a constitution based on Islamic Shari'a (law), which means the citizens and government must abide by Islamic law found in the Quran . The constitution implies freedom of expression; however, Section 3 of Article 32 shows the conflict and contradiction: "… All acts to subjugate them [media] are prohibited, and a law shall determine their regulation." This regulation of the media undoes any attempts at a free press, and the acts of violence and censorship against journalists are clear examples of how the leadership of the State of Puntland does not support a free press.

According to Amnesty International's 2000 Report, Somaliland and Puntland, which have some stable government systems, are not recognized in the international community because of poorly functioning judicial systems, primarily based on clan courts, that do not meet international standards. These courts tend to rubber-stamp whatever charges are made against citizens; these are the courts trying journalists.


While Somalia enjoyed a brief period when the country's press was free, the press has been heavily censored or under government control since 1969. The poverty and refugee status of most Somalis has left the issue of freedom of expression to be argued by a small few who often face harassment, attacks, beatings, abductions, and other forms of interference with their work. The Barre government commonly shut down newspapers, confiscated copies, and was responsible for arresting and imprisoning journalists. In 1991, the short-lived provisional government lifts all bans and censorship; by mid 1991, however, journalists are facing a return to the problems of censorship as well as physical harassment from war-lords and political groups.

The 2000 establishment of the TNG at peace talks in Djibouti offers a glimmer of hope for freedom of expression and the press. The Republic of Somaliland and the State of Puntland have been the biggest twenty-first century problems for reporters committed to the journalistic ethic of exposing the truth, including wrongdoings by authorities. Journalists working in these regions are arrested and imprisoned for criticizing the government or presenting a negative view of any issue facing the country: military actions, attacks on free press, food distribution, desertification, and environmental degradation have all resulted in censorship or harassment of some kind for journalists. In fact, several journalists have been prosecuted for saying the Somaliland and Puntland governments do not support press freedom.

State-Press Relations

While newspapers were previously representative of political parties, all independent publications were closed after Mohamed Siad Barre took power in 1969. For 22 years, most media outlets were government owned and censorship is commonplace.

The 1991 bloodless coup forced Barre and his supporters to flee Mogadishu, and left Somalia with no central government and many political and clan-based militia groups battling for power. The civil war left most Somalis uneducated and illiterate, living in poverty, and struggling for survival on a daily basis. According to the United States Committee for Refugees (USCR), many Somalis are still internally displaced or refugees in 2001. These numbers are a marked improvement over 1992, the height of the violence. Along with the human costs of war come the destruction of Somalia's telecommunications infrastructure, educational institutions, and libraries.

In 2000, the TNG was given three years to hold election, ratify a constitution, and unite southern Somalia and the breakaway Republic of Somaliland and State of Punt-land. Somalia's press system has struggled under this political legacy.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

One of the major issues for all Somalis is the way Somalia is presented in the international community as a wasteland and failure. Somali journalists, literary scholars and writers cite a long oral tradition and a sense of pride in the nation's culture that leaves them feeling protective of Somalia's image; simultaneously, these intellectuals are trying to present the truth of their nation's struggles. All journalists, foreign and local, face danger and censorship.

News Agencies

The Somali National News Agency (SONNA) reports the government's point of view on the country to foreign news bureaus.

Broadcast Media

Before the fall of the central government, two radio stations—Radio Mogadishu and Radio Hargeysa— offered a variety of news and entertainment in several languages. The provisional government had no control of Radio Hargeysa, and in May 1991, the SNM-run station was renamed Voice of the Republic of Somaliland. There were three radio stations in 2002, including one in Galkayo; estimates for 1997 show 470,000 radios.

In 1983, the first Somali television station, which is state-run, began broadcasting two hours per day from Mogadishu ("Somalia: Mass Media"). This television service was disrupted in the 1990s. In 2002 two stations broadcast, in Mogadishu and Hargeisa, broadcasting to 135,000 televisions by 1997 estimates.

Electronic News Media

There is one Internet Service Provider (ISP) in Somalia and approximately 200 Internet users. Many Somali newspapers are available online.

Education & Training

Formerly a nation with a free, compulsory education system, the 1991 coup and subsequent civil war has led to the destruction of educational institutions and infrastructures. According to UNICEF, only 14 percent of school-age children attended college in 2001 (USCR). Most children born since 1985 have grown up with no formal education, and literacy rates have plummeted with an estimated 24 percent of the population able to read and write at age 15 or older in 2002.

No university-level journalism programs existed in 2002. However, in 2001 the BBC sponsored training programs throughout Somalia. The BBC also published a book, So What's Your View , in English and Somali. This first basic handbook for sahafi (journalists) fills a void where no journalistic training materials exist in Somali and only limited texts are available in English or Arabic. Maria Frauenrath and Yonis Ali Nur based the text on 21 months of journalism experience in Somalia.

In 2001 UNESCO funded the establishment of a Web site for the East Africa Media Women's Association (EAMWA), an organization sponsored by Open Society Institute and Freedom Forum. EAMWA seeks to educate and support the efforts of women working in the media in East Africa.


As long as Somalia lacks a unified federal government and civil war continues, it seems that only incremental growth and change will occur in the press, or the country as a whole. International support for Somalia is necessary for significant growth in the economy, educational institutions, and media outlets. If the groups desiring an Islamic state are victorious, it can be assumed that the media will continue to be measured by Islamic Shari'a , and limits and censorship will continue to dominate the press. Perhaps as more Somali journalists are trained and able to take a leadership role in the press system, these individuals will become advocates to improve the literacy and economic situation of the general population.

Significant Dates

  • 2000: Peace talks establish the Transitional National Government (TNG); radio commentator Ahmed Kafi Awale is shot by thieves while covering Mogadishu's Bakara Market (
  • 2001: In June the first privately owned radio station began broadcasting in Puntland.


Amnesty International. Annual Report 2000: Somalia . 4 June 2002. Available from .

ArabNet. Somalia: Overview . Available from .

BBC Somali Service. News Bulletins . Available at: .

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). World Factbook 2001 . 2002. Available at .

Frauenrath, Maria, and Yonis Ali Nur. What's Your View . Available at: .

International Journalists' Network. Somalia. Available at: .

United States Committee for Refugees. "Current Country Update: Somalia," Worldwide Refugee Information . Available from .

United States Library of Congress. Somalia: Communications . Available from .

United States Library of Congress. Somalia: Language and Education . Available from .

United States Library of Congress. Somalia: Mass Media . Available from .

World Press Freedom Review. Somalia: 2001 . Available from .

Suzanne Drapeau Morley

User Contributions:

dineo nthane
Report this comment as inappropriate
Mar 13, 2012 @ 8:08 am
very informative about the countries development regarding mass media and the mass audience of the country. Though its shocking to know that out of a large population only 200 people are internet users. The country should invest in empowering peolpe to be farmilia with the electronic media.

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