Although he was thousands of miles away, UK-based Somali journalist Hamza Mohamed was still able to witness and follow his country’s presidential candidates deliver their speeches in front of parliament with a few clicks of his mouse.Thanks to twitter, he was also able to engage and exchange information about this week's election directly with Somalis around the world.Somalia, a country known for political instability and having the longest coastline in Africa, is undergoing significant political changes.The country’s newly formed parliament elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a new comer to Somalia’s political scene and a grassroots activist, as the new president on Monday in the first election held inside the country for more than 42 years.The new government technically ended a series of transitional governments that Somalia had since the disintegration of the central government in 1991. Somali citizens are not yet able to vote for their own president for security and political reasons. Al-Shabaab fighters, engaged in a bitter war with the government, still control larges swathes of the country, and the United Nations continues to play a major role in the country’s affairs.If Somalis are lucky, they might have the opportunity to choose their own president in the next election in four years time.
Somalis, especially those who live in the West, are often news-junkies desiring up-to-the minute information from their homeland.But with TV stations in Somalia offering no live stream coverage of the elections to the outside world because of low internet penetration in the country, some crafty Somali business people in the diaspora shouldered the responsibility to broadcast the election live and make quick cash in the process.According to Internet World Stats website, internet penetration in Somalia is 1.1 per cent. Internet use in the county increased from 200 in 2000 to 106,000 in 2011. There is scant data available on internet usage in Somalia, and it's hard to gauge the correct number of users, in part because most people go to internet cafes in the cities or use their mobile phones to access the net.The Somali community in the UK established its own TV stations to broadcast live news from Somalia. As the 25 Somali presidential candidates took turns last week to address the parliament and present their vision for the country, these TV stations live streamed the entire speeches, and Somalis who live all over the world watched and discussed the merits of each candidate on twitter.The UK-based Somali Channel TV not only broadcasted the speeches, but also gave its audience the opportunity to call from anywhere and air their views about which candidate they think best qualifies to lead the country. Somalis, journalists, diplomats and analysts interested in Somali affairs, also flocked to twitter and started #Somalia2012 and other random hash tags which created an ideal space that brought people together to broadcast and track each other’s tweets about this historic event.
'Hopes and frustrations'
Abdi Dahir Adan, 23, who left Somalia when he was five years old, and now lives in Eastleight, a predominantly Somali area in Nairobi, Kenya said he became emotional when he saw all the tweets about Somalia and how Somalis are hungry for change."I have noticed that all Somalis around the world love their country," Adan said. "I had to skip my evening classes [on the day of the election] to join the millions of Somalis following the election."Yahya Mohamed, a Somali media analyst, said twitter enables Somalis "to express their hopes, frustrations and wishes regarding the election".
"Somalis who use the social media clearly expressed how they hate corruption and tribalism," he said. "They attacked anybody who mentioned tribes and said it was not time to mention clans or even think about them."Some Somalis also went the extra mile and opined their thoughts on their blogs.“Am I the only one who was blown away with Ahmed Samatar’s [one of the 25 candidates and professor at Macalester College] address?” wrote Ramla Bile, a writer from Minnesota.“I found his comments on the relationship between job creation and love incredibly powerful. He fully appreciates the haunting grip poverty can have on a soul, family, and nation,” Bile wrote on her Tumblr. Somalis in the diaspora are also advocating and fundraising for refugees and those affected by the famine by using social media.The Somali community in Minnesota, home to one of the world's largest Somali diasporas, have been collaborating with the American Refugee Council (ARC), a Minnesota-based non-profit organisation, to create awareness and mobilise people to provide humanitarian relief to refugees and Somalis affected by the drought.ARC, with the help of the Somali community in Minnesota, started “I AM A STAR for Somalia” campaign fundraiser in response to the famine that engulfed Somalia last year."Somalis living outside the country have over the years been the voice of those suffering inside Somalia, and with the emergence of social media, their work is getting noticed more than ever," said Kassim Mohamed, a Somali journalist.
'Great way of engaging'
Britain's ambassador to Somalia, Matt Baugh, who created his twitter account about two months ago to connect and engage with Somalis, said the micro-blogging site is a “great way of engaging, of finding out what people think and the issues they believe are important”.After joining twitter he said he learned the “Somali online community is truly global - from the US to Australia, the UK to East Africa and, of course, in Somalia itself”.“They are passionate about their country and their Somali culture and heritage; and that, most important of all, they want a peaceful and stable country,” he said.Some Somalis on twitter predicted the losers, some randomly circulated rumours, and some like Somali journalists Abdi Aynte and Hamza Mohamed gave a thoughtful and well-enunciated analysis of the process, the country’s history, and about the new president. Mohamud lived most of his life in Somalia and founded Simad University, as Aynte pointed out; Somalia never re-elected an incumbent president, and Mohamud will be the eighth president chosen inside the country since independence in 1960.During the election, the president's full name and "Somalia" became worldwide trending topics on twitter.Adan said he has been using twitter for four years and has never seen Somalia on top of the trending list.The combination of Somali TV live streaming the election, and the real-time status updates of concerned Somalis in the diaspora longing for a better and peaceful country, showed the power of social media and how an online community can put the latest tools to work.