Communications to Slow the Virus in Somalia

UNDP Somalia
May 3 · 6 min read

UNDP takes to the streets and airwaves to fight the virus and misinformation

As COVID-19 spread closer to Somalia, our communications team aimed to slow the spread while others prepared to deal with the effects of an outbreak likely to overwhelm the fragile healthcare system.

Recording a PSA with a significant religious leader in Garowe urging people to stay home and stay safe.

The first priority was to get clear, accurate information out as widely as possible on how the virus spreads and how to keep yourself safe — and also to counter some of the false rumours circulating online and in the streets — that Muslims can’t catch the disease, that it won’t spread in hot weather or that it can be warded off with garlic and ginger.

We set up a communications hub with journalists, video producers, graphic designers web experts and more, from Somalia and around the world, to produce TV ads, radio spots and social media campaigns.

To make sure our radio spots were credible, we teamed up with one of the best-known news presenters in Somalia — and to maximise reach we recorded a separate version in the local Maay dialect. These have been broadcast on more than 30 radio stations, reaching millions.

For TV and social media, we produced an animation covering symptoms, protection measures and government help lines (also supported by UNDP), which has been shown on more than 10 channels and reached 1m people on social media.

We set up the first Somali coronavirus website and partnered with Somalia’s biggest telecom provider, Hormuud, to put a recorded message on millions of phones with useful COVID-19 info and directions to the site.

As well as clear information on coronavirus, the latest news and updated infection numbers, the site hosts a fantastic WhatsApp bot set up by @Hagaha_Covid19, a collective of socially conscious digital volunteers that offers up-to-date information in text and audio (because literacy rates in Somalia are among the lowest in the world):


With the basics in place, we started reaching out to local influencers — people who already have a huge following that could be enlisted to help us raise awareness. With local band Fansan, led by the singers Deqsan and Abdikarim, we recorded a hugely popular COVID-19 song:

With Amin Amir, Somalia’s most famous cartoonist, we commissioned a series of coronavirus cartoons, using the sharpness of satire to burst myths and encourage safe behaviour. As well as reaching more than half a million people online, these have also been printed as posters for distribution to all Federal Member States and to many of Somalia’s IDP camps.

With some of Somalia’s best comedians, we are running a comedy series to highlight the need for social distancing and other COVID-safe behaviour. Three popular episodes have been released so far, reaching over 1m people on social media, and three more are under production.

Overall, our COVID-19 campaigns on social media have reached over 4m people through UNDP’s accounts and many more through promotion by our friends and partners.


Some of the most influential voices in Somalia are the sheikhs and imams, so UNDP joined up with the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs for a three-day campaign in Mogadishu, led by Shekih Ali Dheere and other senior figures.

The campaign saw cars with loudspeakers passing through all 17 districts to explain Islamic precedents for social distancing, self-isolation and other COVID-safe behaviour.

TV discussion programmes were broadcast live and recorded for distribution to mosques around the country, 5,000 posters and banners were put up in public places and safe-distancing spaces were marked out as an example in a popular local market.

Videos and social media graphics made with Sheikh Ali Dheere and other senior figures have reached around 1m people on social media and are being used for TV and radio spots.

We have also supported the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs to set up a website, provide guidelines for safe burial techniques and mobilise the religious community to donate and deliver supplies like masks and soap.


We enlisted the general public with a nationwide home-made video competition open to anyone, judged by local celebrities and promoted by social influencers. We’ve already received more than 20 videos and the winners will be announced in early June 2020.


One of those judges, the poet Naima, has helped out spread the word further by producing a COVID-19 poem and video, enlisting one of the country’s most popular art forms into the fight against the virus:


Another competition judge, Aar Maanta has released his own COVID-19 message as part of the campaign and is now enlisting support from across Somalia’s celebrity community for a collaborate project to raise awareness:

We have developed a COVID-19 guidebook for the Somali National Police and supported advocacy for the release of petty criminals from overcrowded jails.

Working alongside us, Somalia’s Digital Storytellers — 20 young graduates from a photography and filmmaking course designed by UNDP — have also been putting our their own videos to help raise awareness in their local communities by teaching people how to make hand sanitizer, kill germs at home and more.


With the Somali National Army, we have run outreach activities in Mogadishu that have brought information, masks and testing to IDP camps markets and other high-risk areas.


With the IoM and UNSOM, we have produced posters and videos on social distancing and how to make and wear a mask, brining life-saving skills to many of Somalia’s 2.6m IDPs.


With Fatboy Animations, we collaborated on a Somali version of their much-loved social distancing animation:


At the same time, our normal programmes continue wherever possible, and we have been highlighting how this work can strengthen Somalia’s response to COVID-19. This helps to keep Somalia on the radar and attract greater funding and support from the international community to one of the most vulnerable countries.


As the situation develops, we’ll be putting out new messages and running new campaigns to make sure people have the information they need to stay as safe as possible and to mobilise support for the Somali people.

For more information: robert.few at undp.org +252 6141 25046 (WhatsApp)

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