VoA’s The Investigative Dossier: The Outlier in the Cohort
Journalism is generally defined as public writing or broadcasting characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events as they are, without any embellishment or an attempt at interpretation. Professional journalists trust their consumers with making judgements on the facts they presented and mysteries they might have unearthed.
Investigative journalism is therefore the journalistic observation or study of a matter, event or pattern by close careful examination and systematic honest inquiry solely aimed at finding the facts and leveling them to the public with the least fanfare possible.
Globally and historically, investigative journalism has saved peoples and nations from financial or humanitarian doom, unearthed potential environmental and medical hazards, set records straight, and had crooked public officials packing their bags from office if not heading to jail.
In today's Somalia, due to growing public lethargy and general lack of citizen awareness coupled with utter and the painful absence of proper credentialing mechanism for journalists, surprisingly almost everybody is a journalist and sadly almost nobody is a real journalist. Therefore, where real journalism itself is in short commodity, investigative journalism can not be realistically expected.
The Somali media houses on the other hand, if this description can stand, are mainly owned by enterprising individuals with obvious economic, academic, religious or political agendas. These owners, perhaps to their credit, do not even bother the pretense of dispassionate presentation of news, opinions and comments. They are out and about vouching for their brands in the starkest biased terms possible.
For the last one year and so, amidst all the misleading and confusion, narrating-the-already-known, news chaos, plagiarizing imitations, dizzying misreporting and hyperventilating bodycounts, there has been an easily recognizable outlier in the pattern: The VoA Somali Service's "The Investigative Dossier."
Known in Somali as "Galka Baarista" this program has captured the attention and the imagination of the Somalia policy wonks and the hoi polloi alike. This bi-weekly broadcast of 20 minutes digs deep into security, social, historical and environmental anomalies in Somalia. It empirically delves into prevailing consequential trends most often live-interviewing persons of interest who were or are still in the thick of the story investigated and presented.
That "The Investigative Dossier" is a new phenomena and exemplary vanguard in informing the Somali public and policy makers, raising awareness in the Somali speaking public, thus enhancing the possibility of accountability of leaders is certain.
Within that short period, "Investigative Dossier" was off to a flying start. In the first episode, it brought up an issue that was worrying, not only the government and security agencies, but ordinary civilians and observers. It looked at how Al-Shabaab militants obtain Somali government uniform in order to disguise themselves as soldiers when carrying out attacks. On several occasions, the pictures coming from locations targeted by Al-Shabaab showed militants wearing government uniforms. The program highlighted the loopholes and how easily military and police uniform are available.
"The Investigative Dossier" landed a major scoop when it exposed a dodgy deal between UAE-based private company, SKA international and Somali National Army to deliver logistics to the frontlines. The agreement was seriously undermining development of Somali forces. It was putting SNA burden to escort logistics for AMISOM and other foreign troops leaving their development as soldiers behind. The government later cancelled the contract all down to the report by the "Investigative Dossier."
But perhaps one of the most impactful episodes documented with photographic evidence was that companies were dumping trash into the beaches of Mogadishu. Few days after the Investigative Dossier exposure, the Somali government officially announced the allocation of two sites for waste landfill. If there was ever a classic example of journalism prompting an official action, making a visible impact on people's lives, this was it.
Synonymous in this context with the "Investigative Dossier" is Harun Maruf's melancholy narration, subtle but intrusive style of questioning, and objective presentation of adequately researched facts. Harun Maruf brings to the table a wealth of experience in journalism dating back in early 1990s as a newspaper reporter and columnist. His contacts are vast, his groundwork impressive, and this seems to be the core resource to the success of the program so far.
In the grand scheme of things, Mr. Maruf and "Investigative Dossier" have set the bar high for other Somali speaking journalists and media houses. Now, whether other Somali media houses and broadcasters will change tack and follow suit, or if the "Dossier" itself will waver, lose steam and rejoin the pack remains to be seen. I, for one, hope for the first.
Adam Aw Hirsi, a former English Instructor, is the current Minister of Planning & International Cooperation of Jubaland. He is also a PhD student at KeMU, and can be followed on Twitter at @JustAwHirsi