The Rise of Somalia’s Social Media Narrative  

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By: Abdihakim Ainte

Most popular hashtags including but not limited to; #Cadaanstudies aim at challenging non-Somali scholars for academic production; the #HadhicinDhalinyarada, which galvanized thousand of youths to demand a greater participation in the political sphere; #UhiiliHaweenka, which is meant to demand justice and increased participation for Somali women in the political process and most encouraging of all #SomaliRising, which intends to showcase the rise and new paradigm in Somalia.

1st July, 1950, Somalia gained independence from the British in Northern Somalia and Italy from Southern part of the country. Indeed, it has been 56 years with extraordinary ups and downs.

For generations, the traditional means of communication among Somalis has been oral, earning a widely reciprocated nickname known as ‘oral society’ – a society that barely writes or keeps communication records. This has its roots as academics and historian would argue, the nomadic culture that is inherently illiterate.

Today, in the age of social-media and the digital world, that trend is sweepingly changing. This is also due to the fact that demographics Somalia place the youth at 70 per cent. This coupled with the development of mobile telephony and interconnectivity; conversations are now taking place via mobile text messaging, social media (mainly Facebook and Twitter), WhatsApp and other virtual communication platforms.

Other studies also show that almost every Somali – regardless of his/her social status are more likely access to mobile phone and equally likely access to Internet, paving the way for the new technological literate.

Welcome to Somalia’s quantum leap into social media

A recent study on the state of Somalia’s ICT sector carried by Centre for Global Communication Studies has established that the growth of ICT and Internet penetration in Somalia has exponentially increased over the last decade, in part due to the thriving private sector and telecommunication companies that offer affordable mobile services and free sim-cards subscription. As a result, access to ICT-related devices such as mobile phones, tablets, iPads and other modern gadgets has equally increased.

Take for instance mobile-banking scheme that is becoming an alternative to formal banking system. Across Somalia – poor, rich, nomadic and urbanites – use this for day to day; to deposit and withdraw money on their cell phone. In the rural areas, camel-herders are introducing more innovative ways to utilize this technology by spraying their mobile number on the body of their camels, goats, cows, should they lose their phones. This smart and indeed creative approach has been dubbed as nomad-tech at its best.

Even though Internet services are prohibitively limited due to Al-Shabaab’s ban on 3G services, almost every coffee shop and restaurant in Somalia has a free WiFi spot.

Granted, social-media is making a huge foothold within the millennials. Social media platforms are offering new ways of mobilizing and organizing local communities. More importantly, it allows and gives the youth a strong voice and space to share, disseminate information and connect with each other. In fact, Somali youths are much more organized and outspoken (online) than they were a few years ago. This is evident across the country and this new sense of awakening has seen the rise of more youth-led organizations, forums and initiatives than ever before.

“The growth of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Internet penetration in Somalia has exponentially increased over the last decade, in part due to the thriving private sector and telecommunication companies that offer affordable mobile services and free sim-cards subscription. As a result, access to ICT-related devices such as mobile phones, tablets, iPads and other modern gadgets have equally increased,” Center for Global Communication Studies.

In a sense, this amplifies how the spread of technology has transformed Somalis.

Take for example following the terror attack on Liido beach earlier this year, Somalis were quickly able to come around a single hashtag #tweetLiidoPictures to demonstrate a sense of defiance and to send a signal to terrorist that the spirit of Somalis cannot be defeated. Moreover, other Somali hashtags for different purposes operate and are available on social media. Most popular hashtags include but not limited to; #Cadaanstudies that aims at challenging non-Somali scholars for academic production; the #HadhicinDhalinyarada, which galvanized thousand of youths to demand for greater participation of Somali youth in the political sphere; the #UhiiliHaweenka, which is meant to demand justice and increased participation for Somali women in the political process.

Audaciously, some hashtags have taken a rather tepid campaign to international journalists, including that of BBC’s Mary Harper, which was dubbed #SomeoneTellMary, which meant to constructively challenge international media’s narrative and coverage on Somalia (which often paints a negative image and quite often, biased).

Needless to say, there is a disadvantage – and sometimes dangerous side of social media usage. Perhaps I will write another column on this issue for another day.

Abdihakim Ainte is a writer and consultant. He tweets at @AbdihakimAinte