The minister of information for Somalia's embattled government says he is in a war of another kind with rebel groups threatening to destroy any hope for stability in the ravaged East African Country.
Rather than relying on guns and mortar attacks, this battle is fueled by dueling messages, says Dahir Gelle, Somalia's minister of information. His country's weak government is trying to fend off the extremist group al-Shabaab, which has gained control of much of southern Somalia.
Gelle will join a U.S. State Department official tonight at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Center for a discussion on U.S. foreign policy in the war-ravaged East African nation.
Last fall, Gelle helped revive Radio Mogadishu, a nationally run FM radio station that had gone silent for nearly 20 years. Al-Shabaab has ordered residents under its control not to listen to the station, but Gelle says the ban has had the opposite effect.
"We are witnessing an increase of listeners," he told MPR News. "The Somali people (interpreted the ban) as urging them to listen because, as human beings, when someone tells you not to listen, you wonder what's going on." But some Somali-Americans fear the government is losing the communications battle, with groups like al-Shabaab portraying the government as puppets of foreign infidels.
The insurgent group has required about a dozen independent radio stations in Mogadishu to refer to al-Shabaab as "mujahideen," or holy warriors, and to refrain from reporting on the assassinations and abuses carried out by the group, according to the Somali news site Mareeg Online. The radio stations must refer to government soldiers as "apostates."
But Gelle says the re-launch of Radio Mogadishu is a key victory. He says the Web site has attracted nearly 500,000 visitors over the last two and a half months.
Al-Shabaab is the same terrorist group that federal authorities believe lured up to 20 Minnesota men of Somali descent to go back to their homeland and fight. Fourteen people have been charged in the case so far, but many of them are believed to be out of the country and are not in custody.
During Gelle's stateside tour, which included Washington D.C. and will continue in Columbus, Ohio, he is asking U.S. officials to increase financial and logistical support for his country, and to make a similar case to other countries who may be able to help. He says his discussions with State Department officials thus far have been positive, although he declined to offer details.
"We have basically received very good assurances that they are going to support the Somali government and the Somali people," Gelle said. "And we hope in the coming weeks or coming months, we might hear better news, and the level of support might be increased, hopefully."
Gelle said he was not calling for military intervention. The U.S. has been reluctant to send military force into Somalia ever since 1993, when a battle in Mogadishu killed 18 American soldiers and hundreds of Somalis. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pledged support to Somalia's transitional government, and the U.S. has begun sending weapons to help fight off Islamic militants.
Organizers say Tuesday's event is intended to offer an opportunity for Somali-Americans to weigh in on foreign policy in their homeland. Minnesota has the largest Somali-American population in the nation.
Gelle will be joined by Don Yamamoto, the State Department's principal deputy assistant secretary. The Somali diaspora "has a significant role to play in moving Somalia forward," Yamamoto said in a statement.
The discussion is at 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Cowles Auditorium, Humphrey Center, 301 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis.