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Defying Danger: Somali Refugees Flock to Journalism School

  • Roopa Gogineni

With three months remaining in the year, the Committee to Protect Journalists has already declared 2012 as the deadliest year ever for Somali journalists. Despite the danger, young Somali refugees flock to a journalism school in Eastleigh, an eastern suburb of Nairobi.

On the eighth floor of the Binali hotel in Nairobi, journalists gather to honor six of their colleagues killed in Mogadishu in just eight days in late September.

Mohamed Osman, chairman of the Somali Exiled Journalists Association, organized the event.

"No one knows, you know, why we are killed and who is killing the journalists," he said.

Journalists are under threat from al-Shabab militants, rival political factions and general insecurity in a country that has been a lawless conflict zone for 20 years.

Osman fled Mogadishu in 2007 after two of his colleagues at Horn Afrik Media were murdered on the same day. Now in Nairobi, he says the recent violence reminds him of why he cannot return to Somalia.

"Within two weeks more than five journalists were killed, how could you dare go back to a town where the journalist is a target? By no means, I don't think so," he said.

Despite the risks, journalism is still a popular profession among young Somalis.

Two years ago Osman opened the Al-Imra Institute of Languages and Journalism to train young Somali refugees.

Abdiladiif, 22, is one of Osman’s 30 students. Born in Mogadishu, he arrived in Nairobi one year ago as a refugee. Everyday he now attends Kiswahili, English and journalism classes.

"Journalism is my passion and I have always dreamt about it so I will not stop," he said. "I believe that whether I am in Somalia or in a safer place, still death will meet me. So I will still move on. It is unfortunate that heinous acts of violence are leveled against journalists. But still I want continue with my studies, the future holds a lot for me.”

Abdiladiif’s brother, working in the U.S., pays his school fees. The journalism course costs him 1,000 Kenyan shillings every month, or approximately 12 U.S. dollars.

Many in the class are women, like Fatuma Jam’a, aged 27, who used to work as a radio journalist in Somalia before fleeing to Nairobi.

"If you go back to Somalia, it is not safe for ordinary people, but it's even worse for journalists," she said. "Problems will arise but you need to be bold, somebody has to work there. …You need courage and braveness [bravery], and for me, I want to be the person who goes back."

Most of the Somali journalists murdered this year have been in their 20s and 30s, as younger reporters tend to take bigger risks.

After completing the yearlong course, both Fatuma and Abdiladiif are willing to return to Somalia to work as journalists.

They understand the risk but believe good journalism can bring peace to their war-torn home.