Collaboration on the ground increases journalist safety in Somalia

In 2017, with the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity as inspiration, the initial steps were taken to establish a CSO-driven safety mechanism in Somalia. Together with local media CSOs, IMS facilitated the establishment of what is today known as the Somali Mechanism for Safety of Journalists (SMSJ)

In 2016, collaborations and coordination between media CSOs in Somalia were sparse. Inspired by the UN Plan of Action, IMS and its strategic partners developed a project designed to create a unified platform to promote the safety and protection of journalists and monitor attacks against media and journalist. The need was evident as Somalia was and remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world to operate as a journalist.

The first steps

It took time to build trust among the respective organisations but, in 2018, four organisations came together and officially registered SMSJ. Since then, SMSJ has expanded its membership to now consist of seven media and journalist associations, representing media houses and workers across Somalia.

“Before the creation of the safety mechanism, we struggled a lot with government’s iron fist and al-Shabaab’s deadly threats. We – the media organisations – were disunited, our individual capacity was limited and there was a shortage of advocacy skills,” says Mohamed Abdiwahab, a founding member and a former chair of SMSJ.

It has taken time to operationalise the safety mechanism and get procedures and policies in place and not least to implement these, but, over the years, experiences and lessons learned have slowly improved the day-to-day response of the mechanism. Today, the mechanism is operational and has also introduced a gender-sensitive approach to address the substantial issues of harassment, violence and inequality particularly faced by women journalists.

The mechanism helps journalists in danger both physically and legally. Safety trainings are organised through the SMSJ members, and SMSJ also provides emergency support such as medical support and legal support. For example, in 2021 a journalist belonging to a minority clan was accused of murder by the very same person he was investigating in his reporting. The journalist was detained based on the allegations, and, as he belongs to a minority clan, the case did not get much attention. SMSJ, however, provided lawyers and legal support for the journalist and carried out a strong advocacy campaign with regular statements demanding his release. With the intense work from the SMSJ, the case finally went to military court, and the journalist was immediately released.

“If I single out one advancement in the areas of ensuring the safety and protection of the Somali journalists in the last 10 years, I can say that it is the creation of the SMSJ because it strengthened the capacity, quality and influence of the media CSOs to address the challenges the sector faces,” Mohamed Abdiwahab states.

Making a difference

In June 2022, the SMSJ made history when its seven members jointly launched an annual monitoring report as it is the first time in recent history that seven Somali media and journalist associations have come together, jointly developed a report of this kind and agreed on a joint launch. This was a significant step towards more effective, coordinated advocacy work for the safety and protection of journalists and media freedom in Somalia as well as more collaboration.

“SMSJ has increased the collaboration among the journalist organisations and increased the confidence among the journalists. It also builds trust between other actors locally and regionally, and it has increased the power of our voice,” says Farah Omar Nur, the Chairman of SMSJ and Secretary General of Federation of Somali Journalists (FESOJ).

“Previously we were divided, now we are united. We are united on one purpose: to defend press freedom and protect the journalists. Now, our voice is heard and is respected by the authorities,” Farah Omar Nur adds.

Being able to collaborate, add resources and make unified demands gives the SMSJ a unique position and strength in the Somali media landscape. IMS still supports SMSJ today and considers the mechanisms a success that can be applied to other countries, of course with adaption to local context and partners.


SMSJ is supported by Sida, Danida and EU


Key lessons from the IMS work on safety under the UN Plan of Action in Somalia are:

  • Trust is a key element in network and coalition building. It takes time to build and cultivate trust, in particular when it relates to issues of the safety and protection of journalists.
  • Local ownership is crucial for the successful establishment of a safety mechanism, and challenges and opportunities need to be identified jointly by all actors involved.
  • There is no right or wrong recipe for how a safety mechanism is set up.