This research paper examines and assesses how members of the Somali jihadi-insurgent group al-Shabaab have attempted to influence the mass media for strategic communications purposes. Using the group’s activities between the years 2005 and 2017 as a case study, this paper asserts that al-Shabaab’s attempts to influence the mass media for news coverage purposes, despite its own operational security concerns since it withdrew from Mogadishu in 2011, is forward-looking, fast-paced, aggressive, and by and large successful. But the conclusions also assert that despite the group’s focused strategic communications and its opportunistic use of Propaganda of the Deed, its successes correlate directly to the failure of the poor and generally uncoordinated communications efforts of the international coalition working to counter it. 

The generally poor handling of strategic communications by an expensive combination of the Somali government, the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), the United Nations (UN), and some members of the international community has allowed the strategic communications of al-Shabaab a relatively free, unchecked, and unchallenged passage.1 In some cases related to major 

attacks, al-Shabaab’s strategic communications are even viewed by members of the mass media as more authentic, realistic, timely, and truthful, than those of those of the coalition working to counter it.2 

Keywords— Al-Shabaab, social media, traditional media, mass media, influence, audience, terrorism, strategic communication, strategic communications 

About the Author 

Robyn Kriel is a freelance news anchor and correspondent currently working for CNN International at their headquarters in Atlanta, USA. Robyn previously spent eight years reporting in East and southern Africa. She was born and raised in Zimbabwe. 


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(Note: this E-mail interview was initially conducted for a CNN story about the same subject. See reference for ‘Kenya Covers Up Military Massacre’ under secondary online sources. Portions of the interview, not used in the CNN report, were featured in this article with Gathara’s permission.) 

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