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Controvery in Somalia as gov’t COVID-19 Twitter handle used to spread political messages

GOOBJOOG NEWS|MOGADISHU: A verified Twitter account operated by Somali government to issue updates on the Covid-19 pandemic turned into a political platform Sunday after messages with political undertones were posted on the account amid an ongoing turf war between Prime Minister Mohamed Roble and outgoing President Mohamed Farmaajo.

The handle, @SomaliaCovid19 which has been dormant since August last year featured a message ‘warning’ the public of a ‘second wave’ of ‘CBB’. The initials CBB which gained traction following its first usage by Wadajir party leader Abdirahman Abdishakur in 2018 refers to twitter trolls. It’s loosely translated from Somali to mean Social Media Insects.

The term, Abdishakur used to refer to social media trolls whom he said were hired and run by Villa Somalia to intimidate the opposition.

It was however not clear whom the message from the verified account referred to. The Office of the Prime Minister is in charge of all matters related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following the tweet which has since been deleted but screenshots shared widely, questions have arisen as to who may have decided to pursue political messaging using a government account and worse still misinformed the public on such as critical matter as Covid-19.
The account has since been put on ‘restricted mode.’

However, this is not something new within government circles in Somalia. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed Awad was forced to resign in November 2020 following a tweet on the Ministry’s official Twitter account calling for ‘dialogue’ in the Tigray conflict. The Ministry subsequently retracted the tweet and later issued another one noting the remarks did not represent the views of the government.

Farmaajo is a close ally of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had also picked Awad for the ministerial position in an informal power sharing deal between the PM and President in constituting the cabinet.
The removal of Federal Indirect Elections Team ((FEIT) chairman Mohamed Irro by the team members last December also illustrated another case of institutional malaise in Somalia. While Irro had been stripped of the position, he was still the only person who had access to the social media accounts of the polls body. FIET was forced to issue a public disclaimer on state TV that it did not have access to the accounts.