Cartooning for Peace in Somalia: An Exile’s Perspective
In Somalia, outspoken journalists are victimized by lawlessness, militant insurgency and meddling neighboring countries. Abdul Arts, one of Somalia’s youngest cartoonists, now lives in exile, because the attitude in Somalia has become, “shut your mouth, otherwise you will be killed.”
Two journalists have been killed this year and many others have stopped working or gone into exile. Director of Somalia’s largest media organization, HornAfrik, Said Tahlil Ahmed, was killed while he walked through a Mogadishu market in February. Mayow Hassan, of Radio Shabelle, was killed on 1 January.
Cartoon depictions of warfare, poverty and political transition have also lead to danger. For many of Art’s cartoons, a threatening email quickly follows from Islamist groups or weak, albeit active, government factions. Fearing for his life, Arts now lives in Cairo, Egypt where he continues to speak out against violence and female genital mutilation, raise awareness about AIDS/HIV, and promote peace. RAP 21 spoke to Arts to see how his cartoons continue to brew reaction and how he has responded to the difficulties of his job.
RAP21: How many published political cartoons have you done and could you speak about those that have led to controversy or harassment? Abdul Arts: There are a lot of cartoons that I made and published in many newspapers and on blogs. Some of the cartoons that I published have caused controversy and also led to threats from the insurgent militants and the transitional federal government. I always feel fear because a threat from Islamist groups is risky when you hope to go back and live in Somalia and especially in my home city, Mogadishu. Drawing a cartoon talking about the reality in Somalia is like covering live on frontlines. Also, I feel anxious about my security since I am living among a lot of their supporters in the Middle East. I cannot go home, so I concentrate on enlightening the situation from both sides of Somali policy. My goal in drawing these cartoons is to support the peace process and freedom of the press. I also use my cartoons to present the situation of my country, to show the people the crimes against the humanity, and the crisis in my country.
RAP21: The editor of the paper you worked for was killed and since the beginning of 2009 there has been two more murders of journalists - what impact has this had on the journalists and news sources in Somalia? Abdul Arts: I would like to send my condolence to all Somali Journalists. The loss of a talented media figure like Mohamed Muhiaddin, editor in chief of Panorama Weekly Newspaper, and a member of WAN and RAP21 was shocking. Colleagues called and told me that extremists in Mogadishu had blown him up after he had just become the director of the media in the Banadir Region. Also, Said Tahlil Ahmed, who was our colleague, lost his life by the hands of Islamists when they shot him at a public market. So what is going in Somalia is “shut your mouth otherwise you will be killed” and the result is us leaving our home.
RAP21: You are now in Cairo, is the situation better for you and have you been able to publish your cartoons in Somalian media? Abdul Arts: After my cartoons caused a controversy regarding aspects of the policy in my country, and threats coming from both the government and the insurgents, I escaped and came to Cairo. But luckily, I didn’t stop my cartooning and publishing. I resumed my drawing till I faced attacks from their lawyers living in Egypt. Sometimes I hide myself at Somali gatherings because anything could happen if I come face-to-face with the lawyers of both the government and the insurgents. My cartoons appear on Somali websites and local newspapers.
RAP21: What issues, people or subjects you focus on in your cartoons and caricatures? Abdul Arts: I want to focus on other subjects like the Somali pirates, subjects that address worldwide problems not only ours. I also draw about subjects that support the peace processes and the risk of female genital mutilation, as well as AIDS.
RAP21: Do you think you’ll ever stop being a political and peace supporting cartoonist? Abdul Arts: Being a political cartoonist in my country and Africa is a dangerous career, because there isn’t freedom of speech. But I am an ambitious person and I hope to continue my job for as long as I can and never stop.