A nation without a state, a collection of territories in the grip of warlords, Somalia has been a sea of anarchy for almost 15 years. In these circumstances, the privately-owned media, in a country that is mostly poor and illiterate, often find themselves the playthings of the powerful. Beatings, harassment and arrests were their lot again this year, from Puntland in the north-east to Kismaayo in the south-east. The warlords who give the orders have absolute command of their regions. Even if a transitional government was set up, in Nairobi at the end of 2004, under international supervision, freedom of the press in Somalia is a flickering and endangered beam.
Two women journalists were cold-bloodedly shot dead during the year. Kate Peyton, 39, a special correspondent for the BBC, and Duniya Muhiyadin Nur, 26, a journalist on privately-run HornAfrik radio. In both case, the killers are still at large.
The warlords, at the head of their little armies, allow no criticism of their clan, sub-clan, financial interests or national ambitions. Journalists who offend them can expect several days or hours in solitary confinement followed by banishment from the town. At least four journalists have been treated in this way on a whim of the authoritarian governor of Middle Shabelle province, Mohamed Dhere. He has however the ear of the new prime minister, to the extent that the transitional administration has chosen to set itself up in his town of Jowhar. In the secessionist regions of Somaliland and Puntland, the local civil administrations do not balk at making up new rules with the sole objective of silencing their critics.