27. November 2007 | War Reporting

The local Stringer

von Ahmed Jimale. Sweden

Ahmed worked for the German television in Somalia. He was a ”Stringer”, a local assistant: without them, foreign journalists in war-areas such as Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan would be unable to work. Their existence remains in the shadow of the great reporters.

Lesezeit 6 Minuten

It was at the end of 1992 when I met german tv in Mogadishu. It was really a very interesting story how we met; A friend of mine who lived in thesouthern part of Mogadishu and whose  name is Dahir came to me to the nothern part and requested me to help him to hire his car to the journalists  who were coming to Mogadishu to cover the news of the US forces´ arrival. My friend knew I could speak english.That was the reason he crossed the green line to get help from me. We got together  to the ICRC office (International Red Cross) in the southern part of Mogadishu which was under the control of Aidid. I lived in North Mogadishu which Ali Mahdi controled. At this time it was very dangerous to cross the greenline between northerm and southern Mogadishu. We came to the ICRC office and met there a german guy who told us that a crew of the German tv would  arrive soon. He told us he didn´t know if they needed to hire a car or not, but we should meet them and ask if they wanted to. He went to the aiport to collect them and we waited for him at his office. When they came he took them to the ICRC guest house. We followed them and helped them to unload. I had a talk to Albrecht Rienhardt, the chief of the German team and asked him if they wanted to hire a car. He told me that they wanted to have two pick ups, but my friend didn´t have a pick up car. I told to Albrecht that we didn´t have it, so he decided to have one of the cars of my friend and we  should search one pick up while he waited for us for about  half an hour. We got back after half an hour with the other car and he hired both cars. So I told Albrecht: My friend and I have finished our task to mediate you so I want to go home. but Albrecht asked me:”Aren´t you the owner of the vehicles? ” I told him ”no”, that I was just helping my friend to hlend his car.

I asked Albrecht if he wanted to have a translater and he told me he didn´t want to, but suggested I should work for him two for three days. I accepted. This was my start to work with German tv. It did not finish after the three days, but it continued from 1992-2003.

The reason I decided to work with German tv was: I liked to get a job what so ever except using a gun and this job wassuitable for me.

When I was starting with German tv I was studying computer programming in Mogadishu. I didn´t have work and didn´t have the hope to get one because there were no work opportunities. The only work availiable to this time was to be a gunman. So I decided to study instead. It was not easy to live in Mogadishu because it was in an environment that was just completely lawless. I mean, you have to imagine there are hundreds of people out here with guns who really don’t have to face retribution if they kill somebody. Killing was as easy as eating food. Everyone on the street had a gun. You couldn´t diferentiate the enemy from the friend. You were not sure, if you should come back home when you left it. The biggest danger you faced was when you crossed the greenline to the other sidof the town, which was under the controll of an otherone. I lost the hope to live, every minute to come I  thought it wa my turn. It was not only me who waited his turn, but  everyone in Mogadishu lived this horrible life. I was a familyboy and depended on my family. I had a wife but we could not live together because of economical defficulties. I was not a famuos person, but I was a normal familyboy who lived in a city with violation, chaos and disaster.

My task as a stringer was:

  1. To translate for what I was to get  paid.
  2. To make the appoinments before the arrival of the crew.
  3. To inform and film if anything new happened in Mogadishu if no crew was around.
  4. To facilitate local transportations inside and outside of Mogadishu.
  5. Acting cameraman
  6. To make security sure which was the most difficult task for me.
  7. To grant the security I hired guards both from the south and north of Mogadishu .Noone from German tv knew it – and even if they got to know – I think they did not understand how important  it was for me and for them, to have guards from both parts of Mogadishu. I think it was only me who had such guards. This was the reason, why we diminished a lot of the dangers which could  threaten us. I sent for the respective guards when we needed them and I had to pay them.

To work as stringer at this/that time was the most dangerous job. I can say it was really special work because I was working with different people with different interests. Bodyguards escorting media, drivers, owners of the vehicles, politicians and Journalists: All of them had their own interests which were completely different from each another. And you as stringer were the one who had to deal with all of them. Further more you had to deal with the people in the street because going out with the a camera and actually trying to get things on a film was very, very dangerous  People who didn’taprove to get filmed could  just atonce shoot you. Once you stood in  the street with a camera, there was no difference between a Western journalist or Somali journalist or an Arab journalist. At the moment you stood in the street,t you carried a camera, it was regarded as a threat. No one liked a camera. No one liked a journalist, not the militias, not the people on the street, not the UN peace keepers neither the US forces. Being a stringer in Somalia was just like commiting suicide. Being a Somali facilitated the way to move around in the city without camera. I looked Somali, I spoke the language, so I moved around. And that was the only access I had.This advantage disappeared as soon as I stood in the street with a camera. I can say western journalists with a camera were saver in Mogadishu than a stringer, because western journalist would get kidnapped and could be exchanged for a ransom Stringer were to be killed instead of asking ransom. His camera was to be robbed because he created suspicions to be a spy in the service of foreigners.

To make the matter worse as a stringer you became very famous in Mogadishu. Being famous in Mogadishu increases the level of the danger to the extreme. If two clan fights each other, they hunt and kill the most famous and important figures from the other clan. Stringers are among those whom are being hunted. I am living in Sweden today because of being famous in Somalia. And also because of some German tv programs which Somali ploticians didn´t like. These are the reasons why I live here in Sweden today. As as a stringer for such a long period I became very experienced to the dangers. And I knew when it became too dangerous. After a long and almost endless time my wife, my mother and many of my friends including Dahir. who was working with me from thebeginning to the end as stringer”put a pressure on me to leave the country, because it is not save for me anymore to stay. I finally accepted.

I live now in Sweden peacefully. Apart from peace I can not see any progress in what I am doing. But it´s too early to say that, because I`m still studying the Swedish language and starting to integrate  myself into the society.

Featured Image: Wikipedia

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