There is no music heard in Mogadishu after ban

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

On April 13, the music stopped. It disappeared. The airwaves were emptied of rhythm and beat, of singing and instrumentation. Somalian radios now only amplify the sounds of the natural environment: people speaking, animals crooning, gunfire, and explosions.

This change in programming was due not to a governmental edict but on the orders of an insurgent group, the Hizbul Islam. They declared that broadcasting music was against the principles of Islam (for a very strict definition), and the stations complied.

Of the 16 stations available in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital city, 14 have removed all music — not just the playing of songs, traditional or contemporary, but also program introductions, jingles during the commercials, and anything else that might be considered music. Two have resisted thus far: Radio Mogadishu, which is government-controlled — just about the only thing left in Somalia where the government has control — and Radio Bar-Kulan, based in Nairobi.

In a quasi-rebellion, the music has been replaced with “natural” sounds, but this is likely just a temporary game, as a harsher decree will be next. First, remove all sounds that aren’t humans talking. Next, broadcast only the bulletins of our order, approved by the militant leaders (i.e. you can broadcast if you have more guns). Finally, just shut down the entire radio network.

This is Somalia.

Since 1991, the country has hardly been a country at all. With a civil war that became another conflict, followed by yet more war and more conflict, any sort of normalcy, unity, or government has been impossible to maintain. So the people are left in a decades-long battle since the conflict first began, one that no longer has a soundtrack. The Guardian, in its piece on the radio silencing, suggests, “The music ban is likely to be highly unpopular…” as if there is some chance that one more lost freedom is going to cause the Somali people to run into the street singing and dancing, which would, of course, be against the law.

Oh, and if you happen to believe music on the radio should be banned, you might also agree with a second Somali militant group’s decision to stop using bells to end classes. Bells: also too musical. Bells sound like bells in Christian churches. (Apparently Christians have a monopoly on the sound of bells.) Regarding bells: “Any school heard using bell sounds after now will be brought to Islamic justice.” Some 2 million people live in Mogadishu, and today they continue to have their rights further restricted, with no real end in sight.

As the groups exert further pressure on the remaining media that exists, journalism becomes even more difficult. Just last year nine journalists were killed in Somalia, more than any other African nation.

But maybe this decade will be better. With some hope, some luck, or an awful lot of concerted effort, maybe a government that can actually hold power will unite Somalia, help journalists freely report on their country, allow schools to signal the ends of their classes with a noise of their choosing, and allow radio stations to broadcast a bit of entertainment into Somali homes in the evening. Maybe that music won’t have to be turned up to drown out the explosions occurring across the city.

Or maybe Somalia will grow even more cut off from the rest of the world, the entire country silenced.