update on Problems in the VOA-Somali Service
Upon its revival on Feb 2007 the VOA Somali Section personnel were clearly recruited on clan bases, formulated in 4.5 rule. I was one of the Somali Journalists interviewed and called to serve. The VOA Somali was intended to utilize objectivity and bias free sources. An experienced journalist to become part of well selected pool of reporters was required to appear for
both the interviews & skills assessment where he/she resided, in my case, I took the test and screening interview in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Few months later, I was contacted by an official from the VOA over the phone and was informed that I successfully passed the interview & the skills test. However the same official asked me the name and the place where I was born? My response was: Hargeisa. A short while later, my telephone rung again, this time I was asked which part of Somaliland or Puntland I belong to? This later ‘quiz’ had truly shocked me and I started to question myself. What has ‘clanism’ that doomed the whole nation of Somalia--once the bright rising star of the Horn of Africa--has to do with the journalism profession that calls for fair, unbiased and a balanced reporting, free from vested interests and the sick ideology of tribalism that marred most parts of Africa.
I worked in the Somali Section of the VOA for nearly four years and in that tumultuous period, I encountered numerous situations that differed in nature. During my early days with the VOA Somali Section, which was headed by a gentleman by the name Fred Cooper, I felt a confident sense of fairness and equality among all the Somali staff members, on top of that, a well balanced programming. Unfortunately this short lived peace took a nose dive soon when Mr. Abdirahman Yabarow took the wheel. It was not surprising to the staff, given the nature of the case which had everything to do with the fact that Mr. Yabarow had no prior experience of management. In fact, he had been a cab driver for 25 years and never really managed difficult tasks in his life. He had no substantial knowledge or prior experience of journalism either. Mr Yabarow soon started designing plans to employ only Somali Nationals who belong to his clan (Hawiye) in order to ensure that whatever plan he had in mind worked. He completely blocked or tainted the selection process of the potential employees; he took every effort to make sure that a vacant position at the Service would not go public; anyone that somehow managed to find out the foul practice, was threatened or singled out on the bases of clan affiliations in particular those from Darood and Isaq clans, the two other prominent Somali Clans, apart from Yabarow’s clan.
I recall at least 12 qualified journalists who learned their faith after they were notified by Mr. Yabarow. They were told, “You failed the test, therefore, you were not supposed to be granted the jobs you sought.” Astoundingly, during the same time three other individuals with mere basic journalism knowledge--who indeed failed the test whilst Mr. Cooper was the head of the Somali Service--were all hired back, simply because they are from Yabarow’s clan (Hawiye).
Due to the above mentioned events within the corridors of the VOA Somali Service, not many could have avoided the popular norm that the new Department head embraced an open ‘clanism’ strategy. Onset, Yabarow started to make sure he removed all the previous staff members under Cooper. This was conducted as an internal conspiracy shared by few to design a Service where everyone owed Yabarow, since most of the less skilled people he hired were individuals who had to return a favor. Eventually, the new comers sided with him on all issues, including the most illogical matters.
Following are some of the most experienced, truly qualified journalist that departed from the the service, as a result.
1- Mohamed Omer Ahmed (Haydara)
2- Mohamoud Ahmed Abdalla
3- A/Salan Salwe
4- Fathia Mohamed Abssie
5- Khadra Husein Guray
6- Ali Abdi Harare
Despite, I stayed and worked very hard to get recognition from the ‘new boss.’ However, after I could no longer bear the organized chaos within the work place and pure aggressions perpetrated towards me by Yabarow, on the bases of my clan affiliations, I decided to confront him personally which led us to have a closed door meeting. I pleaded him to remain fair to all the staff members and mentioned to him that the Department is: for all Somalis, and that I would like to see him to let them do their job. For a short while, we made a little progress in the scrutiny. I had to remain steadfast notwithstanding he promoted every single person who came after me. Those individuals never delivered a news before, and were incapable to put a radio hour together, but they got the break anyway. Some of the editors whom he recruited while I was there, did not even know how to do a simple line up, and I was the one who did their job while they got paid. I had to stay because I enjoyed the journalism profession and I raise a family. Apart from the short compromise, my words fell into a deaf ears and Yabarow continued his behavior and tyrannical practices.
He even interfered with my work, as simple as picking a political discussion topic or he often directed instructions to me in order to exclude the reputable individuals in the weekly political discussion program, simply because they are either from Puntland or are known critics of the
Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (the TFG) which is led by President Sheikh Shariif (Same clan as Yabarow’s).
Per VOA Somali Section Chief instructions, the following individuals are barred to participate in political discussions program, often aired on Sundays:
1. -Professor Abdi Ismail Samatar
2. - Osman Abdi Nur Hashi
3. - Mohamed Abshie Walde
4. -Omer Farouk
5. -Awad Ashare
People in particular journalists and other intellectuals questioned why did Yabarow took extreme measures against these famous scholars? I would simply respond that my position is: a contractor with lesser rights and that the upper command decided so. To shed light to Yabarow’s scandalous acts, some Somali vigilantes complained to the Office of the Civil Rights, but nothing has been done. One has to understand how government laxity works in order to get what we had to go through.
After all, Yaborow secretly receives money by selling open positions in the service. Positions are awarded to the highest bidders. People are being brought from as far as Mogadishu when the most skilled Somalis are right here in the United States of America. Worse, there is no one who even possesses a Green Card that’s left in the Service, a strategy that puts Yabarow an advantageous position. This should make people wonder why that is. Could it be that Yabarow’s insecurity led him to practice ‘evil’ tactics? Well!, it would not be the first time that Mr. Yabarow did something illegal. It is a public knowledge, he was arrested in Saudi Arabia in an armed robbery he participated, 30 plus years ago. He was also arrested in Nairobi, Kenya on fraud charges, 6 or 7 years ago. Yabarow is an avowed candidate for corruption and embezzlement. For example, there are people in the service now, who received federal government funds for a work that they did not do. These accounts may seem incredible and hard to believe but there is a tangible evidence to back up most of the wild accusations.
The bottom line is: it does not seem that Yabarow or his superiors care about news transparency. But perhaps one of those days someone will listen carefully and hopefully something will spark that will alert authorities from the Broad Casting Board of Governors or the VOA leadership. Restoring the dignity and the respect the VOA Somali Section once enjoyed, is both crucial and worthy.
By Ali Abdi Hadhadhe Email: firstname.lastname@example.org