Richard Engel on Somalia: It’s ‘Like You Are Reporting on the Moon’

By kevin 

While NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Richard Engel is best known for his reporting in the Middle East, he said he’s been spending more time outside the region lately. “I spent a lot of time in Iraq,” Engel tells TVNewser. “Then, I spent the next several years in Lebanon, and the last year and half or so, I’ve mostly focused on Afghanistan.”

This week he’s reported on conditions in Somalia for “Nightly News,” “Today,” and MSNBC. “It’s been on my mind a long time,” he says of the African nation, one of many “centers of militant activity” beyond his usual beats in the Middle East.

“The war-fronts are not in anyone place anymore,” he says.

He explains that the country is “one of the places that has become a militant sanctuary that isn’t talked about.” According to Engel, most of it has become overrun by al-Shabab, a ruthless group affiliated with al-Qaida, which could make it a lethal breeding ground.

He says the situation is seldom discussed here because of the United States’ limited involvement there, though he admits it’s a story that’s increasingly being covered in the western press.

So is it “The most dangerous place in the world” as it’s labeled on the newscast?

“It’s certainly the most lawless place in the world,” Engel says. “What makes Somalia dangerous is: if something happens, no one is coming to help. Being embedded in Afghanistan is dangerous…but you know you’ll get medical care.” He adds,

“There’s nothing. There are not even ambulances….There’s not a streetlight in the country,” Engel says of Somalia’s complete lack of infrastructure. It’s the kind of environment that can be incredibly challenging for a reporter, a cameraman, and a producer.

“You have to approach it like you are reporting on the moon,” he says. “You have to be self-sufficient.”

He tells us that getting interviews with major figures in Somalia wasn’t much trouble, but he did admit that many other people were reluctant to talk. Also, he adds, “It’s hard to trust people.”

Engel leaves again Thursday for his next, yet-to-be-announced assignment, but you can read more about his week in Somalia here. See his full report from last evening’s “Nightly News” below: