Thu, Jul 12, 2018 - Page 14 News List

Laughing and singing in Mogadishu

A new wave of artists, activists and entrepreneurs are trying to improve Somalia’s capital city despite it being one of the world’s most dangerous cities

The Guardian

Somali Muslim children play in a playground last month at Mogadishu Peace Garden duirng the Eid al-Fitr celebration which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Photo: AFP

The surprising sounds of a late evening in Mogadishu: surf on the beach, laughs of revelers, clinking of cups and glasses, oaths of harassed waiters and the soft melodies of the oud of Aweys Kabanle.

Kabanle, a 45-year-old former dressmaker turned musician, is playing traditional Somali music at the luxury Mogadishu Beach View hotel at the city’s Lido beach to a smartly dressed audience in one of the world’s most dangerous cities.

“This is Mogadishu. We laugh and sing. We play music. Music is for peace so we no longer live in fear,” Kabanle says, sipping a cappuccino.

RECOVERY IN VIOLENCE

There are few cities with contrasts as stark as those of Mogadishu.

Swollen by hundreds of thousands of people displaced by famine, drought and conflict in rural areas, its outlying districts resemble a vast refugee camp. Authorities are incompetent, corrupt or simply absent.

It is seven years since the Islamic militants of al-Shabaab withdrew but many streets bear the scars of more than two decades of incessant warfare.

Mogadishu’s inhabitants have long been known for their resilience, but a new wave of activists, entrepreneurs and artists are now trying to improve their city.

Two years ago, Kabanle survived an al-Shabaab gun attack and suicide car bombing close to where he now performs every evening. The attack left at least 10 dead, including three of Aweys’s friends. The oud player was forced to jump over the wall of the hotel where he was playing to escape.

“For several months following, there was no show,” he says. “People were unwilling to come back but I was committed to come here again. I started the first night by myself alone playing music and resumed hosting the show. Thanks be to God, people got confidence and now they are coming back for my show.”

Despite the ongoing violence in the Somali capital, the economy is growing, hundreds of expatriates are returning from the west or African nations, scores of colleges are opening to cater for the young population and there is growing investment from the diaspora. Estate agents thrive: a two-storey house can cost nearly US$130,000. Mogadishu has hosted a TEDx conference.

TAKING ACTION

Ahmed Hassan Sheikh decided to return to Mogadishu from Kenya a year and a half ago. He started his own arts company inside the fortified Mogadishu airport complex, where thousands of diplomats, UN staff and regional troops from the African Union stabilization force are based.

There is no shortage of demand for Sheikh’s paintings.

“I do not need to fight with a gun. I have a powerful pen with which I draw my feelings. I believe through it I can bring change. I can make Mogadishu peaceful,” the 48-year-old artist says.

His paintings call for young people to take up pens and books instead of arms, to warn against illegal migration and its devastating effects on Somali families.

Other drawings recall life in old Mogadishu before the civil war, a time when the city was known as the most beautiful city in Africa. “When people see my artworks of former Mogadishu and how it used to be like, they appreciate how peaceful and prosperous Mogadishu was,” Ahmed says.

Then there is Ubaxa Caasimadda (Flowers of the City), a group of students who, 18 months ago, set out to smarten scruffy city streets and mark roads to increase public safety. They started with the safest roads such as those near the presidential palace, because some had already received death threats from al-Shabaab.

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