Somalia’s earliest newspapers were printed under Italian rule in the 1930s. One of the earliest newspapers was Il Littoriale, and after the Second World War the newspaper Corriere della Somalia came into circulation, published in Italian and English. Colonial possession of the print media did not change until independence. Though following Barre’s coup in 1969, existing newspapers continued to be published in the colonial languages of Italian and English.
Somali only became a written language in 1972 and not many books are published in Somalia because of the civil war. The Somali-language print media began operating after the introduction of the Somali Latin script at the behest of Barre – a system developed by the Somali linguist Shire Jama Ahmed. The first Somali newspaper was the government-owned Xidgita, its first issue was in January 1973. Later three other newspapers joined its ranks – including its sister government-owned paper Najmatu Oktobar printed in Arabic – and there was also Heegan- an English-language newspaper that was published twice a week. In the 1980s a presidential decree created the second Somali-language newspaper Ogaal, which was run directly by the Somali Socialist Revolutionary Party headed by the president. The first privately run newspaper, Aldaleeca, an Arabic-language newspaper, was not published until much later in the 1980s.
In the same period the Ministry of Information heavily regulated the media. There was no freedom of the press and any criticisms of the government were severely punished. Though, as Mohammed Gaas, Stig Jarle Hansen and David Berry (2011) states, Ogaal was a little different as it did in some cases diverge from the official state propaganda. By 1988 the Barre regime had shutdown Ogaal as the civil war begun. The other newspapers were in operation until the state comprehensively fell apart in 1991.
In their research paper Gaas, Hansen and Barry argue that there are two important remnants from that period with regards to development of the print media. Most qualified journalists today have learnt their craft during the post 1972 period, but they were part of a “repressive press traditions” and were seen as being puppets of the regime of Barre. Second, this was the phase that defined the Somali language; the standard written Somali was established in this period and after the collapse of those early Somali-language newspapers, the Somali linguistic standard deteriorated.
After the civil war begun, in a quick period of time all the established newspapers along with TV networks and radio stations collapsed. Following the violence in 1991 many newspapers appeared. Estimates suggest in the period of 1991 to 2000 there were. Some of these newspapers were connected to warlords or clan groups, and were seen as biased, partisan and clan-mouth pieces. As the violence sped up in the 1990s most of these newspapers disappeared.
By the 2000s the print media was in tatters. War and conflict had made it difficult for newspapers to function in the country. The newspaper industry had suffered during these years with many printing organisations shutting down in South/Central Somalia and Puntland. Nowadays Somaliland is the only region with a thriving print media sector. There are over a dozen printing outlets that are operational. Most of the newspapers have a small circulation. The most popular ones were Haatuf, the Somaliland Times and Hubaal, yet these ended their existence due to government interference. Others are, Jamhuuriya and Geeska Afrika. Some like Jamhuuriya are daily, while others are published two or three times per week.
It must be noted that the levels of circulation of newspapers are low because of the ongoing conflict. In recent years the country has witnessed an explosion of online newspapers that have filled the gap left in the market by the scarcity of print newspapers. Nowadays many popular online platforms exist and occupy the space that is traditionally occupied by the print press.
The current largest Somali newspaper is Geeska Afrika but this can’t be confirmed as it is purely based on popularity and it is unknown how many copies are read due to lack of data resources.
But another significant reason for the low print penetration is that Somalia has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, in fact according to the UN it’s 7th in the world. This explains, along with the conflict, why there are so few printed newspapers. Yet despite this, there is a growth of weekly magazines, and online news outlets written in Somali, Arabic and English such as the Somaliland Today, the newly created Somaliland Review magazine (2018) and the website Garoweonline.com.