Dadaab Refugees Seek Transparency, Rapid Information

August 9, 2011
Somali reporter who grew up in a refugee camp near Dadaab explains what residents want and need from local media

Internews is conducting a joint assessment of information needs in refugee camps around Dadaab, in Eastern Kenya. Known as the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab has taken on an influx of Somali refugees fleeing famine conditions in the Horn of Africa. More than 400,000 refugees are reported to be living in three camps near the town of Dadaab, with capacity for just 90,000.

Internews interviewed Aden Hassan Tarah, a reporter for Star FM, based in Dadaab, about the information available and needed within the camps.

INTERNEWS:  How long have you been here in the camps? 
TARAH: I came here in 1991, when I was 4 years old. I’m 24 years old now, and will be in 25 in October…I’ve lived here for 20 years.

INTERNEWS: Why did your family decide to come to Dadaab?
TARAH: My family is from Mogadishu, Somalia, that is where I was born. We came to Dadaab fleeing from there. Most of my family ended up in refugee camps.

INTERNEWS: How has media inside the camps changed since you arrived?
TARAH: Radio is the main source of information for refugees here. Since refugees are very poor, they do not have access to TVs, so radio is their main source of information.  We have listened to the BBC for 20 years.  Young people also rely on the Internet that they access on their cell phones.

INTERNEWS: How did you become interested in working in the media?
TARAH: I have wanted to be a journalist since I was very young.  I like politics and activism and the ability to speak for the voiceless. I like reporting on humanitarian issues…and finding the truth behind the veil. I was inspired by journalists like from the Kenyan newspaper, The Daily Nation.

INTERNEWS: What does your community want from media?
TARAH: They want transparency; they want unbiased programs that report the reality here.

INTERNEWS: There are several local media outlets in Dadaab, like Ergo Radio and The Refugee newspaper, how is this impacting your community?
TARAH:  It’s a big boost for people living in the camps; however to relay information, it takes approximately six to eight hours before it can be broadcast [for technical reasons]. There is no breaking news.  People want an information source that is educational and discusses things important to them, for instance recently arrived refugees from Somalia have been arrested and sent to jail for cutting down trees for firewood.  It is against the law in Kenya, but not in Somalia and they do not know that when they arrive, so they end up in jail.  We need radio programs that explain these things to the community.

INTERNEWS: The current drought and famine in Somalia have sparked a frenzy in the international media about the situation in Dadaab. As a local reporter, how do you feel about having so many foreign journalists coming to report on your community?  
TARAH: I was practically born here, so of course I understand more and can tell the stories of the community better than someone from the outside.  I have first-hand information about what is really happening to the refugees here.  A lot of [outside] reporters come and only make generalizations, they do not report on the reality. 

INTERNEWS: Do you face any difficulties as a journalist living and working in Dadaab?
TARAH: Yes, primarily insecurity. I like publishing the truth, and it is dangerous to talk about that reality. Al Shabab punishes people by cutting off their hands. I recently did a report exposing corruption in the camps’ food distribution centers, and received over 50 phone calls of people threatening to cut off my hands. They even called and threatened my mother. It makes me scared sometimes, but I continue doing my work.

INTERNEWS: Do you plan leave? Or to continue working in Dadaab?
TARAH: My hope is for there to be peace in Somalia so that I may return and build my own career, instead of remaining a refugee.  I hate being called a refugee more than anything else in my life. I don’t want to be called a refugee, I want to be called a person who has a country and who is proud of his country. I have lived in Dadaab for 20 years, but camp authorities still question my identity because I do not have a passport.  Refugees are confined here, it is like an open prison from which we cannot move. I am a very vocal person—if I go back to Somalia, I will not keep quiet. I cannot hide my opinions. I know if I go back I will be killed for speaking out.  So for now, I am waiting.

Internews’ work in Dadaab is part of joint assessment conducted by Internews, Radio Ergo/IMS, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and Star FM of Kenya to understand the information needs of refugees in Dadaab, and explore ways to improve the flow of communications between refugees, aid agencies, and host communities. Internews’ assessment in Dadaab is funded by The John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation.