Page last updated at 15:22 GMT, Wednesday, 7 April 2010 16:22 UK

Somali anger at threat to music

By Patrick Jackson
BBC News

A Somali radio presenter broadcasts from Mogadishu, April 2010
All but two of Mogadishu's 13 radio stations broadcast music

Radio stations broadcasting out of Somalia face a dilemma this month after a powerful Islamist militant group ordered them to stop playing music.

Saying that the playing of music was un-Islamic, Hizbul-Islam announced on Saturday that stations had 10 days to take it off air.

The punishment for failing to comply was not specified but 11 radio stations based in the capital, Mogadishu, are thought to be directly affected.

If they drop music, they stand to lose listeners. If they ignore the warning, they face the wrath of the militants.

Music-lovers in the war-torn country are indignant at the idea they will not be able to tune into their favourite pop, which is largely recorded abroad, in North America and the UK.

However, there appear to be limits to Hizbul-Islam's ability to make good on any threat.


Somali pop music, ranging from the plaintive songs of Abdi Shirre Jama (aka Jooqle) to the hip hop and rap of K'Naan, is widely on sale in Mogadishu.


It can be heard playing in the tea shops of the government-controlled area, which amounts to about a third of the capital, says local BBC reporter Mohammed Olad Hassan.

Somalis have to be more discreet about music in non-government areas. Al-Shabab, the country's other big militant group, are known for their own strict interpretation of Islam, frowning on music and cinema.

"You can see drivers on passenger buses playing music inside the government-controlled area, then turning it off when they cross into non-government territory," our reporter says.

Pop music is genuinely popular in Mogadishu and many people resent being "bullied" into what they can hear on the radio, he adds.

Hizbul-Islam would have all music, right down to the jingles, taken off air, he says.

"Deny a Somali his music and his poetry, and you deny him his voice," says Christophe Farah, a journalist of Somali descent in London.

In a fractured state like Somalia, radio remains the most influential medium.

One Mogadishu resident told BBC World Service that radio stations should retaliate by stopping broadcasts to Islamist-controlled areas.

The man, who did not wish to be named, accused Islamist militants of wanting to "choke" the media.

Al-Shabab's say

Despite the very real anxiety being felt by broadcasters in Mogadishu, London-based journalist Ridwan Haji Abdiwali, who works for the Somali broadcaster HornAfrik, doubts Hizbul-Islam's sway over the media.

They [Hizbul-Islam] are trying to show the public that they are on the same level as al-Shabab
Ridwan Haji Abdiwali
Somali broadcaster HornAfrik

Speaking to BBC World Service, he said the group had political motives rooted in their troubled relationship with the country's other big Islamist group.

While Hizbul-Islam may be the stronger of the two numerically, al-Shabab is reckoned by analysts to be better organised and supplied.

"They are trying to show the public that they are on the same level as al-Shabab," says Ridwan Haji Abdiwali.

At the same time, they want to show their rival that they share the same militant values and views, he argues.

Ridwan Haji Abdiwali believes that Hizbul-Islam would have difficulty enforcing their ban as many of the radio stations are based in Bakara market, Mogadishu's commercial centre, which is under al-Shabab control.

Al-Shabab use these radio stations to deliver lectures about their own activities. On Monday, for example, they delivered live lectures on "jihad" and fighting Westerners.

Whatever Hizbul-Islam's objections, the militants seem prepared to allow some music to be broadcast if it means retaining listeners, the HornAfrik journalist says.

Print Sponsor


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific