Just after I was sworn in as a minister in Somalia's government last August, I took a tour of my new office, located at the heart of the turbulent capital, Mogadishu. I had been there before -- though only for a glimpse. This time, as I walked through the halls and ventured into the rooms, I saw what I was really in for: There were no telephones, no fax equipment, no Internet access, and the radios weren't working. And I was the new minister of information.
In Somalia, to be minister of information is to lead a war -- a war of ideas -- against the Islamist militias tearing the country apart. On one side, you have al-Shabab and its affiliates, linked with al Qaeda. On the other side, you have the Somali Information Ministry and the government, trying to communicate with Somali people. That was our job, but we lacked even the most basic equipment to do it.
My first days of work as a cabinet minister were spent buying tools -- a transmitter for the radio and other equipment for my office. I had to find generators for electricity. We had to start everything from ground zero on everything, lacking in financial resources as well.
Then I had to find journalists from Mogadishu's shrinking media to add to our staff. We started with only 30, but today we have about 100, and we have managed to be online almost 18 hours a day. Our radio station, Radio Mogadishu, has a website. It is broadcast in Somalia daily by satellite. By now, my daily work has moved on from finding transmitters and phones, but I still spend much of my time watching over the security of the ministry's staff.
Our most important job these days is to cure the Somali people of the idea that Shabab and al Qaeda are a future for Somalia. We have to help people understand that Shabab's agenda is not in their interest. We have a variety of programs: cultural, sport, or programs led by religious scholars who explain how Shabab has nothing to do with Islam. Traditional leaders have spoken on the air. We support the forces fighting against Shabab in central regions by helping them to communicate with the country.
A good example of our work was aired at the end of December: a program called the "Destiny of Shabab." Radio Mogadishu outlined the differences between different groups within Shabab -- those who are led by foreign elements and those who are led by more nationalistic and local leaders. We can tell that our listeners listened in great numbers to that program because after it aired, Shabab outlawed Radio Mogadishu and prohibited listening to it in the territories that they control. The result of that banning, however, was not what Shabab expected: We have seen an increase in listeners since the program. Our answer to their ban was to broadcast Radio Mogadishu via satellite.