Kassim Mohamed: Exposing Somali Piracy

Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim, Alhamdulillah! (In the name of the Lord, the most gracious, the most merciful).

I am sincerely grateful to the International Center for Journalists for recognizing my work as an African journalist. It is a remarkable lifetime achievement that adds fuel to my commitment to journalism. Over the years, I have tried to tell the untold tales of the pain endured by the Somali community in Kenya and Somalia.

I saw a skinny girl in her teens go into labor in a remote town in Kenya’s parched Northeastern frontier. Under a hot mid-day sun, with no hospital or medical personnel nearby, she gave birth to twins. A few minutes later, the young mother bled to death.

In another town 300 miles away, hundreds of starving refugees lined up for emergency food aid. But there was only enough for one-eighth of the refugees because much of the relief had been sold off by powerful people.

Mainstream media ignore these stories or refuse to spend the time and money needed to report on the humanitarian crisis in the Somali community.

I come from Mandera, a Kenyan town that borders both Somalia and Ethiopia. In this place, people feel like they are third-class citizens. I have also lived and worked in Somalia, where my ancestors come from. This is why I have walked with Somali refugees as they made their way to Dadaab, the world’s biggest refugee camp. It is why I witness—and report on—babies dying of hunger. And that’s why I spent time with desperate Somali asylum seekers who live in limbo on the icy streets the Netherlands.

International media have focused on piracy off the coast of Somalia and its impact on international shipping. But I visited the Somali coastal community – people whose livelihood is threatened by foreign vessels that patrol the coastline and rarely tell the difference between the pirates and genuine fishermen. My stories revealed the complex issues behind piracy: the dumping of toxic waste by European and Asian companies on Somalia’s lawless coast; illegal fishing by Chinese, Taiwanese and Japanese ships; and most of all the endless battles among warlords who want to control a country that has been adrift for decades.

In Kenya, I uncovered criminal gangs who terrorize and rule the streets of Eastleigh, a largely Somali neighborhood of Nairobi. After this story came out, the gangs broke into my house. Their threats have forced me to become an internally displaced person in my own country. This is why I could not show my face in the video this evening. Despite the threats, my story had an impact: More than 60 of the criminal gang members were arrested.

These stories give me the zeal to continue working in this dangerous profession. We are society’s gatekeepers, responsible for protecting both the rich and the poor.

As Somalia marks a new chapter with the election of a new president, I hope Mr. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud will make press freedom a major priority. I hope he remembers that journalists have kept the Somalia story alive for the last two decades, a time when warlords and politicians were squabbling over that beautiful nation.

I also hope Kenya will remain peaceful as we head to the 2013 general election. Let the violence of the last election in 2007 be a lesson. The media must remember their crucial role in maintaining peace. I say to my fellow journalists, let’s build a better world through the power of our pen and our voice.

I am able to continue this work thanks to the support of family, friends and the management and staff of Star FM and The Star newspaper. I would like to express my gratitude to those who played a role in the development of my career: Sharleen Samat, Farida Karoney, Mercy Oburu, Katua Nzile, Ahmed Abdi – who is here tonight – Abdullahi Jama, Ida Jooste, Fatuma Noor, Mohammed Adow, Asim Keita of CPJ and many more. I love you all.

I am very blessed and pleased to receive this award tonight. Thank you ICFJ, once again! Thank you and God bless you all.