A dynamic media sector with journalists well-trained in both the theory and practice of news-gathering is widely considered to be essential for a country’s growth and development.
In this respect, Somalia’s news media sector has made great inroads since the end of a decade of conflict in the 1990s and the establishment of the Transitional National Government in 2000. It has grown in number, diversity, and professionalism despite the challenges of insecurity, political pressure, and limited resources.
And that is a need which Abdulrahman Yusuf Hassan ‘Bukhari’ has been helping fellow Somali journalists meet.
Mr. Hassan is also the founder of the non-profit Somali Digital Media Academy (SODMA), which aims to create a cadre of media workers up-to-date with essential digital skills and the latest technologies affecting the global media industry.
Mr. Hassan’s path to becoming a media educator started early, helped by his language skills, especially in Arabic.
“My journey was shaped by the tumultuous backdrop of the 1991 civil war,” Mr. Hassan says. “I witnessed the unwavering resilience of the Somali people, and this inspired me to harness my passion for media and journalism towards making a change in my country.”
The media educator was born in 1981 in the city of Belet Weyne, in Somalia’s Federal Member State of Hirshabelle. His family moved to the nation’s capital, Mogadishu, in 1994 when he was 13-years-old as they felt there no suitable educational opportunities where he lived.
In the capital, he attended the Al-Nahda Primary School from 1994 to 1998. Subsequently, he completed his secondary education at the Usama Bin Zed High School in 2004, with his eyes set firmly on a career in the media.
In 2006, again using his Arabic language skills as a stepping stone, he began approaching international foreign media outlets which did not have a full-time presence in Somalia. This eventually led him to become a correspondent for two prominent Arabic news channels, Al Arabiya and Al Hadath.
After finishing high school, Mr. Hassan enrolled at the Mogadishu campus of the University of Science and Technology, Yemen. He received an undergraduate degree in Media and Public Relations in 2007. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Arabic Language Studies from the same university in 2016.
During his years of being employed in the Somalia media sector, Mr. Hassan saw that many of his colleagues had a low level of skills due to the lack of opportunities for learning and training. This prompted him to create SODMA in 2017.
It was not easy.
SODMA’s primary mission is to create a centre specialising in training on digital media and technology. It currently offers a diverse range of short courses, including on graphic design, video editing, videography, motion graphics, digital marketing and information communication.
Like its founder, SODMA has come a long way since it started. The organisation began with five trainers who volunteered their time. Now, it has a staff of 20 working in administration or coursework, and close to 3,000 students – both aspiring and veteran journalists – from various backgrounds from across Somalia.
In line with Mr. Hassan’s own background, the courses include an international component. On past occasions, SODMA has partnered with the Al-Jazeera Media Institute to provide training for its teaching staff in areas such as graphic design and video editing, as well as training for Somali journalists on news editing, mobile journalism, and storytelling for digital platforms.
“In a country where approximately 70 per cent of youth face unemployment, SODMA addresses the technical gaps within Somali media, encompassing aspects like filming, media ethics, editing, and modern design,” he says, adding, “This approach mirrors the rapid transformations occurring in these fields globally.”
The full inclusion of women has been a central pillar of SODMA’s approach, especially because women journalists can help challenge existing social stereotypes and add new viewpoints to media coverage.
SODMA provided pro-bono training for a group of young women who formed a film production company, Bidhaan Production. It has made a name for itself in the commercial sector by making videos of weddings and other special occasions in Mogadishu.
Khadro Ahmed Biid exemplifies the positive impact of SODMA’s training. In 2018, she completed a six-month course on film and video production. Armed with this training, she secured a position at Bile Media, an independent local media agency based in Mogadishu offering digital TV services. Initially joining as a camera operator and editor, she has since been promoted to the director of Bile Media’s children’s channel.
“It is incredibly rewarding to see someone you have trained apply their lessons and find fulfilment in their work,” Mr. Hassan says of SODMA’s students and trainees. “It brings me immense joy to witness their journey from unemployment to productive engagement. It is uplifting when some of them share that they now support their elderly parents or orphaned relatives.”
UN and education
With professional news media acting as a guardian of public interest and with nearly 60 per cent of the world’s population currently using the Internet, the United Nations is an advocate for increased training on media and information literacy – specifically, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
“It helps people make informed choices about how they participate in peacebuilding, equality, freedom of expression, dialogue, access to information, and sustainable development,” he adds. “In this respect, more training for Somali journalists can only contribute positively to Somalia’s development. Mr. Hassan’s work exemplifies how one person’s dedication can create a ripple effect of positive change in a community.”
UNESCO supports and champions media and information literacy initiatives across the globe. In Somalia, the UN agency supports the Somali government in developing and implementing policies and strategies for the education sector.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM).