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Face to face with Somalia’s Warriors from the North

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“I’m very lucky,” he said, speaking with IFEX. “Only two of my friends died in suicide bombings.”

The actions of Al-Shabab militants aren’t the only dangers journalists have to worry about. They also have to deal with tribal warlords, common gangsters, pirates, and government officials. The Somali government has played its own role in cultivating a culture of impunityand disrespect for journalism as a profession.

“They will all try to hurt you if they don’t like what you say,” said Farah.

According to Human Rights Watch’s latest World Report, government harassment and intimidation of journalists deemed critical of government policy, particularly by the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), increased in Mogadishu in 2014. The National Union of Somali Journalists also released a report detailing the violations journalists were subjected to in Somalia that year.

To make matters worse, in May 2015 the Somali government banned journalists from using the name Al-Shabaab in their reporting. Instead, they ordered them to refer to the militant group as “the group that massacres the Somali people”. While this may seem like a good-intentioned attempt to refuse to pander to terrorism, it has made journalists who comply with the ban be seen as pro-government, hence walking targets for al-Shabaab. Those who don’t comply are perceived as al-Shabaab sympathizers, instead, further aggravating an already hostile work environment.

Warriors From the North is not Farah’s first attempt at humanizing the Somali context. In 2007, at the height of Somalia’s piracy crisis, he co-directed a documentary entitled My Cousin the Pirate. When word reached Farah that his cousin wanted to become a pirate, he decided to go back to Somalia to try to talk him out of it and film the process.

“The picture I get of Somalia in the Western media is not the same as what Somalis are telling me,” says Farah, when explaining what drives him to create documentaries where Somalis are allowed take control of their own narrative.

“I hope that one day it will be easier to be a journalist in Somalia, so they can tell their own history for the world,” he continued.

“I can always leave Somalia and come home to Denmark. Local journalists can’t do that, they can’t escape.”

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