Somali Journalist in Exile: Journalism is My Profession and Fighting for Humanity is My Passion
The laptop screen became my window into his soul. Even before he said anything, I witnessed his lack of vigor, a certain lassitude. It brought to mind the words of Suketu Metha, “I am an adulterous resident: when I am in one city, I am dreaming of the other. I am an exile; citizen of the country of longing.”
Before I can go any further he pauses and says, “I am glad that despite not having much of a chance to communicate in my language on a daily basis I still remember these things.”
I am taken aback as I imagine the loss one may feel when they no longer have the opportunity to hear and communicate in the language they have been gifted by their ancestors.
In many ways, Somali journalist Abdiaziz Abdinoor Ibrahim is a victim of his own talent.
One hot morning in Mogadishu he stood outside the home of a woman who had been raped by a group of men in armed uniform . She narrated her story to him, he listened attentively absorbing her pain while simultaneously keeping himself acquainted with the facts.
“As I left her I wondered if I would report on it, undecided, I knew it was my duty to investigate further on her case,” he says. “Not just for her but for the sake of every woman who had been raped by those considered to be agents of the state.”
As a journalist, he knew it was his duty to stay true to that unspoken oath he had taken of telling the truth and giving a voice to the voiceless.
Over the following days he left his home under the blazing Mogadishu sunshine determined to shed light on the facts related to the case.
His phone rang. The name flashing on the screen was that of the rape victim. As he prepared to greet her he was surprised to hear the voice of a man at the other end.
The voice was that of the head of the Criminal Investigation Department Abdullahi Hassan Barise. He was calling as he wanted some assistance regarding the rape allegations. With hopes of assisting with the investigation, Ibrahim rushed to the police station. He did not imagine that he was about to face the type of injustices which he worked to protect his fellow countrymen from.
Within minutes of meeting the head of the CID, Ibrahim and the rape victim were imprisoned without any explanation. Following this, he was put on trial and given a jail sentence of one year for “fabricating a defamatory story and misleading an interviewee.”
“I cannot identify what was most harrowing about my confinement,” he says. “Was it the being treated like an animal in a cramped cell with 45 people having to often sleep standing up? Being locked up for committing a crime which never occurred? Living the mental anguish of imprisonment or feeling the helplessness of not being able to change the injustices taking place within and outside of the prison boundaries?”
His fellow journalists tirelessly campaigned for his release and finally the authorities succumbed to this pressure.
However, by the time his release came he knew that prison and state agents were no longer the greatest threat to his life.
It was the unknown, those figures who wander through the cities, countries and societies with only one aim, to shut the mouths and tie the hands of those who wish to speak the truth.
Every text message alert felt like a premonition of death, there was no surrender to sleep at night in the fear that murder may steal the dawn.
Safety was no longer to be found in the cocoon of familiarity which was home. Those streets which had been walked on throughout childhood were now being shared with faceless bullies and bandits.
The monsters and jinns who seemed scary throughout the nights of infancy did indeed exist and could grab him at any time.
“So I began to look outside the boundaries of my country, the unknown calling of places afar was where some immunity from danger may be found,” he says.
Packing his bags, he bid adieu to his family about two months ago, leaving his wife with a longing glance reserved for a beloved.
The feeling of trepidation followed him to Uganda where he sits now, a man in exile, not only in a physical sense, but living that state of mind which is exile.
The statelessness echoes in his voice as he narrates his story to me. Alas, the phone, despite having a different country code, is still a bearer of ominous messages; the same phone also links him to the melody which is the voice of his beloved.
For Ibrahim this is his new world, his new life, his reference point for many things. “There is a before and an after in reference to every situation I face and experience. Life before jail, before arrest, before exile and then life after,” he tells me.
There are days when his new surroundings absorb Ibrahim, his mind finds peace in the magnificent lakes, remnants of home in the red dust and an awakening of taste buds in the restaurants serving the food.
As he sits back in these places, he re-lives moments of conversation, laughter and tears with his friends and family. It is memories of the past which allay fears of the future, he watches them in his mind like a film.
“Somewhere in Mogadishu sits the woman who had been raped, she is free from jail and though perhaps the trauma may never leave her, I am grateful to have given her a voice,” Ibrahim says.
Yet Ibrahim is still troubled; he is troubled by thoughts of his fellow journalists who look upon the Gulf of Aden and envy the freedom of its waves, beckoning waves of lands afar.
The holy month of Ramadan is here and his faith strengthens, for Ibrahim believes that despite the actions of man the protection of God will not forsake him.
“Journalism is my profession and fighting for humanity is my passion,” he says. “If I see people struggling [then] it is my job to expose and describe to the world what is really going on in Somalia. I have no choice but to do just that.”
Every once in a while, Ibrahim sees beautiful flowers growing on the road side and is reminded of the wife who waits for him.
The black and white prints of a newspaper awaken his longing for his art.
When the life-giving rays of the beautiful African sun fall on his back he takes comfort in knowing that the same light shines upon his homeland, and he hopes, as have many exiled before him, that his homeland will be free of injustices and he shall return . . .
Samira is a contributor to Sahan Journal. She is UK-based writer specialising in politics, economy and development of East and Horn of Africa. Follow her on Twitter: @samirasawlani