National conference concludes with strong commitment for peaceful elections and free expression in Somalia
A two day national conference on peaceful elections and freedom of expression, bringing together key stakeholders in the electoral process has concluded today in the Somali Capital, Mogadishu, with the adoption of a declaration to ensure peaceful elections and enhance safety of journalists. The conference – organized by the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) and the Political Affairs Unit of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) with the support of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) – is part of wider efforts aimed at ensuring peaceful elections in the upcoming polls. Somalia will soon hold both parliamentary and Presidential elections in which the people will elect their leaders. The declaration read out at the end of the conference on Monday, by the Secretary- General of the NUSOJ, Omar Faruk Osman, seeks to ensure a safe environment for the media to operate, promote freedom of expression, recognizes the legitimate role of the media in the electoral process and denounces any form of hate speech and incitement to violence. Additionally, the declaration calls on all political actors and their supporters to refrain from violence and incitement of violence, and hate speech; urges both the federal government and the federal member states to prevent, investigate and punish attacks on the media and calls on all stakeholders including politicians, journalists, media houses and all Somalis to exercise restraint in their utterances, statements and publications among others. “We denounce and reject any form of hate speech and incitement to violence as well as any form of mis- and dis-information which can exacerbate election-related tensions and call on all actors and candidates to avoid using these types of statements as well as their specific use in social media and the use of “computational propaganda”,” the declaration reads. In his opening remarks on Sunday, the Deputy Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (DSRCC) for Somalia, Simon Mulongo reminded the media of the need to exercise responsible journalism, as the country heads to the polls. The DSRCC reiterated the commitment of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to supporting the people of Somalia in ensuring that peace and stability returns to the country. “Let me assure you of AMISOM’s unequivocal support to the people of Somalia and the government, and you that we will always stand with you to the end as we prepare to hand over the security responsibilities to you,” Mulongo said. More than 70 participants, including media professionals, members of electoral bodies at both federal and state levels, the Somali Police Force, political parties, security agencies, international partners and civil society organizations attended the conference. On his part, Somalia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mohamed Abdirizak Mohamud Abubakar called on the media to exercise responsible journalism and refrain inflaming the situation and sowing seeds of division in the country. “Democracy and political stability depends on the lively participation of organized civil society and media in political life. Events of this kind can make a valuable contribution to our nascent democracy which is growing in confidence” the minister observed in his remarks on Sunday. The declaration will be implemented by the federal government, the federal member states and all stakeholders, including the security agencies, electoral bodies and the media so as to ensure inclusive and peaceful elections in the country. Omar Faruk Osman, on his part, called on all stakeholders to play their part and ensure that the country holds peaceful elections. “At this critical time of elections we need to ensure that we exercise our constitutional rights of freedom of expression fully. Journalists, civil societies, citizens, political actors and the Somali people need to equally promote avenues that will lead peaceful elections” said Osman. Speaking on Sunday, Ben Fender, the British Ambassador to Somalia, underscored the need for the media to practice responsible journalism during elections, noting that the media industry in Somalia has made huge strides in terms of transformation. Present at the conference were Somalia’s Minister for Women and Human Rights Development Hanifa Mohamed Ibrahim, Nicole Miller, the European Union Acting Head of Delegation to Somalia and other top AMISOM officials and international partners.