Unbelievable – that is the only way I could describe of this Somali language article published on Somaliland papers in Hargeisa and the popular Somaliland owned sites.
The article basically explains in detail the original hiring process, which I concur, as a sham and extremely bias (I will explain my reasons later) and the way VOA Somali Service is managed now.
Of course Somalis are divided into tribal camps and yes any clan would mistress the head of the program if he is not one of their own. But what gave this article more credibility is how the author constructed the facts. And here is the fact check;
The Article claims that the man asked to hire the initial employee is from Ethiopia. His name is Mr. Mengesh. Mr Mengesh has made a good choice of going to Minnesota to recruit the future VOA radio Somali broadcasters. (Minnesota is the home of the largest Somali Americans)
First, he (Mr. Mengesh) asked people through word of mouth (that Is not professional, typical third world way of disseminating information instead of using other methods such as community papers and local media) to come to Hayatt Hotel in downtown Minneapolis to take a simple language test in early September – at that time, the article explains, almost all would be potential candidates from Somaliland were absent from the state to attend the annual Somaliland Conference organized by SOPRI. The article got it right because as a Somali Minnesota Media member, I was at the Conference in DC area too and never got the chance.
So, Mr. Mengesh and his Somali guide, helper or assistance (don’t know what he has called him at the time) who happened to be from Puntland, Mr. Said AKA Sayid had deliberately made a strategic decision to focus to hire predominantly non Somalilanders as the timing of their quest suggests. In that faithfull day, none of the attendees were from the main cities of Hargeisa, Burao, Berbera or Erigavo except one girl named Zuhur.
Yes, there were two or three other individuals that grew up or maybe lived in Hargeisa but none the less were not members of the majority clan that hails from Somaliland – couple of them ended up being hired – of course for no fault of their own – But hear this, no one else was present to take advantage of the limited scheduled testing time.
The reason I concurred this is because I sent this email to Mr. Mengesh upon my return from the conference in DC explaining my credentials and how much I wanted to be part of the process.
Secondly, as the article explains and I have verified after I interviewed some of the original test takers this week in Minnesota (I’m in Minnesota as I write this piece), Mr. Mengesh and his handler were asking people about what region they come from during the interview. It seems that the VOA Somali section that is being created had already made a strategic decision to identify their candidates through the tribal glass – The article claims that this was an attempt to exclude the Somalilanders from the process by not even seeking a single resident of Minnesota from Somaliland.
Thirdly, after Mr. Mengesh hired the new aspiring would be Somali broadcasters from the twincities and elsewhere, he realized that most of them were not well known in Somali speaking communities through out the world. That was a blow to VOA since it would likely to compete with the much popular BBC Somali in London. So he hired couple of famous Somaliland broadcasters – Hereri and Awke – to boost the marketing and to compensate his original shortcoming of not hiring “real” Somalilanders. Eventually those two guys left in few months, for whatever the reason.
Of course the VOA would naturally need a Somali to report from Hargeisa (the capital of Somaliland) and so they hired a native Hargeisa lady. After Hargeisa’s reporting was so overwhelming for her, they have decided to hire a guy to help her.
But the article claims that none of the other major Somaliland cities has a reporter. The article compared how other, even smaller cities of the Somalia proper has reporters. The article also complained that the only reporting VOA Somali is interested is to “create division among Somalilanders by focusing only debates on the three Somaliland National Parties to enhance their disagreements.”
Within a year or so the VOA Somali Services decided to have a Somali Chief Editor, Mr. Yabarow who was an editor already got the job.
Yabarow later recommended the hiring of the only broadcaster from Somaliland working in VOA main office in DC. This journalist’s name is Fathia – and the article explains in detail the difficulties Fathia is facing to do her job and how her voice is rarely heard in the radio. To be fair, the article refrained to explain more!
This is, also, the tricky part for me, since I can’t verify independently for what is happening in those VOA DC Studios. But since the article got the other above points right, I’m willing to take its word for this as well, unless I heard the VOA’s version.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any hurt feelings for not getting the opportunity to show what I could do – I moved on to pursue my media career elsewhere – I also happened to know the Chief Editor and several other VOA staff members – But my courtesy is limited to these insinuating circumstances the article has claimed to be true, which are overwhelmingly close to the truth.
And my blogging about the article and its contents is not, by any means, a slandering VOA Somali Service, its leadership and/or its staff, but rather a critical gesture to suggest a soul searching action that may clarify the fact based perceptions out there and to develop a new strategy to balance their approach onto Somali tribal society.
Like I said, yes, Somalis are divided into mistrusted clans and any head of a public program like this would be a subject to unkind scrutiny, but the opportunity to continue to self correct and counter measure still exists. AND that is why I think the management (Mengesh, Yabarow, the lady -forgot her name) and the staff of VOA Somali could take advantage of this critical article and other feedback they receive from outside- to help them improve their stand in Somaliland public. To communicate better and to clear the air- After all, they are in the media- public relations business and ignoring this article as a necessary nuisance is not wise.
Like all other Somalilanders out there, I wonder if VOA Somali Service Management would ever explain the main question that the article raised; How come there are no Somaliland editors in the VOA Somali Service Program?
History shows that Somaliland media personalities used to dominate airwaves in BBC, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and most of all medium that broadcast in Somali language through out the world.
I would accept any response, but please don’t tell me that you can’t find someone talented in this rich pool of Somaliland Americans. Can’t wait to hear the answer!