OPINION | May 17, 2012
By Liban Obsiye
While speaking with my young teenage cousin over supper at home I was surprised when he asked me to change the channel we were watching to the Somaliland National Television (SLNTV) channel to watch the day’s news. I giggled and teased that he barely spoke Somali since he was born and raised in East London. But as it turned out the joke was on me. SLNTV has an English translation of the news
some time after its main bulletin in the national Somali language in the evening. At first I was surprised but as the news went on I was very impressed. “I am disappointed Liban,” my cousin smirked. “You are a writer and out of touch with media developments at home. You are true fish and chipeeees” With this, both of us laughed.
To get a feel for local views of this within the Somali Diaspora in East London and Bristol, I went to some of the most popular hangouts which consisted of restaurants, coffee shops and marfash (khat eating locations). Many, especially those claiming to be Somalilanders, were proud of it and saw it as a step forward although most of them did not watch it themselves. However, I was surprised to hear the level of hostility towards this service from many others that were interviewed. Although none wanted to be directly quoted, the general argument was that SLNTV, like most national news broadcasters in the former British colonies and protectorates, has given up on the national language and elevated English above it. To the most dramatic critics this was a continuation and acceptance of British ideological dominance even after independence in the self declared independent State of
Somaliland. Somali news should be in Somali was the main argument. Anything else, a celebration of colonialism. Full stop.
But how wrong these people are!
The likes of Al Jazeera and other reputable global media brands of all types such as radio, magazines and newspapers have understood the importance of communicating with a global audience and as a response have developed English language services. It is important to always preserve your mother tongue (sometimes more than 1 in some regions) but this limits your audience to just this group. In an age of globalisation with ever shrinking physical borders and greater intercultural communication, the media has become a source of information, entertainment and education for a global audience made up of tourists, investors, researchers and economic migrants to name a few. Far from a return to colonialism, it is a celebration of national achievement when a news corporation is able to showcase its multi-lingual capabilities. News is produced for the purposes of information, entertainment and education.
Successful media organisations seek to influence their audience and policy makers in a way that provokes and encourages a response. How can this goal be limited to only Somalis if in an age of governance and joined up government, some of the key players such as aid agencies and international organisations mainly staffed by non-Somali speakers are left out of the information sharing loop?
English translated news I was informed by one critic is the creation of the “global intelligence network”, especially the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of America. Well if it is then people are better for it as it provides information to the world about the Somali people and their situation which can trigger a quicker response from the international community if there ever is another famine or natural disaster which threatens the most vulnerable in society. Of course it is not to say that the CIA knowing would automatically trigger a response and that they would prioritise humanitarian assistance over their current counter terrorism operations in Somalia, but what’s to say that they do not already have enough English speaking informants on the ground? Would the information from their informants not be more targeted and richer in content than a general news broadcast? The answers to these questions should nail the paranoid security service critics coffins shut.
Many young Somalis born in the Diaspora do not speak their mother tongue and for them news from their homeland translated in a language they can speak and understand is very important. Despite not living or sometimes not even been born there, many young Somali westerners return home most summers for holiday to visit family members. This is particularly more the case in the most peaceful parts such as Puntland and Somaliland. While there they learn about their families’ culture, heritage and their own history. Many upon return want to continue learning and keeping up to date with the developments in their home land. Producing the news and other programmes in languages they understand facilitates this. For those still living in Somalia, especially the students, it is also an opportunity to learn and develop their English speaking skills.
“I always watch the Somali language news with my mum and then I compare it with the English translation,” said Saed a 15 year old London school boy. “It helps me learn Somali and keep up to date with things back home because my ayeyo still lives
Communicating and transmitting their messages to the young Diaspora is crucial for the most responsible media sources in Somalia and Somaliland because if they lose ties to their indigenous homeland development will certainly be much more painful and slower. The translated news and programmes allows them to understand the situation in their home country, create a lasting affiliation and eventually add to or replace their parent’s efforts with theirs. The key advantage of the younger western Diaspora is that unlike their parents who were mainly able to provide remittance, they will be able to continue contributing this as well as manpower and genuine knowledge transfer which can propel development.
SLNTV is not without its faults as there are question about its editorial independence and ownership. But translating news into many different languages is not only common sense if a media organisation is a serious one, but a necessity today for those wanting to influence and drive change through society. The SLNTV English language news programme is timely, innovative and actually very informative. It has brought renewed interest to Somaliland and its development issues. More importantly, by simply communicating the news in English, it has awoken and has the real potential of mobilising the usually excluded young Diaspora members who many adults wrongfully believe have lost interest in their culture, religion and heritage simply because they struggle with the Somali language which has various dialects and very little published literature to learn from. If other Somali news agencies and broadcasters are serious, they should follow in the footsteps of SLNTV and not bore viewers with repeats of dead political arguments followed by cosmetics adverts.