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Credit: Somalia – Mohamed Abdiwahab/gettyimages

Openly in the street

Sagal Salad Osman was hungry when she left a university in the west of the Somali capital on that afternoon in June 2016 to go to a nearby cafe with two girlfriends. The young journalist was studying IT and worked as a presenter and producer of children’s programmes for the Somalian state broadcaster. She never returned.

Two or three unknown men shot her seven times openly in the street. They escaped without being identified. The immediate suspicion was that militiamen from the Islamic terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab were involved, or at least the police were very quick to say so. Sagal Salad Osman was just 24 years old; photos of her show a self-confident young woman smiling at the camera. She did not comply with the strict regulations on wearing the veil in public as demanded by the Islamists, and her friends are sure that this alone was a reason to kill her.

On top of this she was interested in football and was a fan of Manchester United. The police, on the other hand, assumed it was an act of revenge on the part of Al-Shabaab, since an Islamist had been sentenced to death and executed for several murders of journalists shortly beforehand. Sagal Salad Osman died en route to the hospital. Her death was a tragedy for her family, her colleagues stated. Her mother had died only shortly before and she had had to help put food on the table for her six younger siblings.

Not only was she mourned by her colleagues, but her death also became the subject of global attention - and immediately became a political issue in Somalia.

Journalists throughout Africa were shocked and sent messages of solidarity, the African peacekeeping mission in the country condemned the murder and even the president at the time spoke out. The perpetrators will stand before a court and be brought to justice, promised Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. He himself knew how helpless that sounded. “We urge the Somali authorities to find those responsible and to end the cycle of violence and impunity that has plagued this country for so long”, said Omar Faruk Osman, head of the Somali association of journalists, in a plea to the authorities.

The appeals remained as inconsequential as so many others before them. Journalists in Somalia live dangerously – they must always fear for their lives. Indeed, in the capital Mogadishu the situation is often so tense and confused that many prefer to stay overnight or even live in their offices, since many haven’t survived the commute home. Just a few months before the murder of Sagal Salad Osman, her colleague Hindiyo Haji Mohamed died aged just 27 when unknown attackers placed a bomb under her car. She was also working for the state broadcaster at the time and left behind five children.

Her husband, also a journalist, had been murdered just a few years before.

Somalia is not only one of the world’s poorest countries, but also one of the most hopeless. For a long time it has been considered an entirely failed state in which sheer chaos and violence prevail. In 2006 Islamists conquered the capital after a transition government fled into exile. It was only the intervention of neighbouring Ethiopia that ended the advance of the Islamists.

For journalists, Somalia has been one of the world’s worst countries since 1992 when the fall of dictator Siad Barre triggered a bloody civil war. The country is still ridden by conflict, with government troops and the soldiers of the African Mission exchanging bitter blows with the Islamists, and even the USA is involved in air attacks. It was only in 2012 that a new government could be elected for the first time, but it only has a small proportion of the country under its control. A new president has been in office since February and there are high hopes for him, but Al-Shabaab continues to fight against any attempt to stabilise the country, and serious attacks by the Islamists are an almost daily occurrence, even in the capital. 

On top of this there is malnutrition and hunger; two out of three Somalis have no access to clean water and only a few children attend school. Almost a million people have fled to neighbouring countries, with at least as many displaced within the country, and there could soon be twice as many, since Somalia now finds itself plagued by a devastating drought.

Fifty-nine journalists have been killed since the outbreak of the civil war, and in the global rankings for press freedom compiled by the organisation Reporters Without Borders, the country occupied 167th place out of 180 last year. In 2012 alone, 18 journalists lost their lives.

Islamic militias, warlords, criminals and competing clans have no interest in the disclosure and spread of information, and will stop at nothing in their use of murder and violence to achieve their ends.

But even the authorities and the government crack down on unwelcome journalists with raids, intimidation, arbitrary arrests and torture. There are almost never any serious investigations into murders of journalists, which generally remain unsolved. The murder of Sagal Salad Osman was no exception, and the perpetrators have never been captured.


written by Kordula Doerfler; correspondent, DuMont Hauptstadtredaktion

  • Credit: National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ )

    Sagal Salad Osman

    The average life expectancy in Somalia is 55 years. Sagal Salad Osman reached the age of 24. The reporter and student worked for the state radio Mogadishu producing a kids program. She was murdered when she was leaving her Campus in the Hodan-quarter of Mogadishu. Officially nobody claimed responsibility for the crime. However, the Police suspected the Islamic militia al-Shabaab, which had killed other journalists before.