The National Theater as a Symbol in Somali Politics and Western Press Narratives

Tuesday, March 20 (Reuters):

In the roofless, bullet-ridden building that houses Mogadishu’s National Theatre, Somali musicians staged a concert for the first time in 20 years, a sign of a marked improvement in security in the war-ravaged Horn of Africa country.

Under pressure from African Union and Somali troops, al Qaeda-linked militants withdrew from Mogadishu in August prompting a return to relative calm in the capital, although the rebels still manage to launch sporadic attacks.

Wednesday, April 4 (New York Times):

Outside, on Mogadishu’s streets, the thwat-thwat-thwat hammering sound that rings out in the mornings is not the clatter of machine guns but the sound of actual hammers. Construction is going on everywhere — new hospitals, new homes, new shops, a six-story hotel and even sports bars (albeit serving cappuccino and fruit juice instead of beer). Painters are painting again, and Somali singers just held their first concert in more than two decades at the National Theater, which used to be a weapons depot and then a national toilet. Up next: a televised, countrywide talent show, essentially “Somali Idol.”

Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, which had been reduced to rubble during 21 years of civil war, becoming a byword for anarchy, is making a remarkable comeback.

Wednesday, April 4 (AP):

Two weeks ago, Somalia’s National Theater reopened for the first time in 20 years for a concert that drew an audience in festive colors in a city trying to rise above war. A welcoming banner proclaimed: “The country is being rebuilt.”

On Wednesday, the theater was turned into a scene of screams, chaos and blood when a suicide bomber attacked another high-profile event, killing 10 people, wounding dozens and shattering a tentative peace in the capital of Mogadishu.

Maybe Mogadishu is in the early stages of a renaissance. Maybe Somalia is still a very dangerous and unpredictable place, whose would-be government is still a mess mostly propped up by regional and international powers. Maybe both. The point about the theater is, though, that if you – as a government or a news outlet – want to use a symbol in making your political argument, then others might decide to use that same symbol in making their (very different) political argument.

Only fifteen days elapsed between the re-opening and the bombing. What does the theater symbolize now? The fragility of the Somali government’s claims to progress, I would say.


6 thoughts on “The National Theater as a Symbol in Somali Politics and Western Press Narratives

  1. The violence in Africa reminds me of a similar period in Europe’s history – the hundred years war.

    Eventually, the desire not to be blown up or have one’s children blown up will take precedence and peace will be restored, simply because it must. I don’t see how the extreme ideologies of Al Shabab can stand the test of time. Africans, like all other people want to live and live in peace.

    The Islamic World must have its own reformation. Osama bin Laden’s ideology of Islamic inspired violence cannot stand the test of time. The Islamic World will not be content to be stationary while the rest of the World (including Sub-Saharan Africa) progresses.

    Eventually the relative peace of Turkey, Morocco and Malaysia will be preferable to the devastation and destruction of Somalia.

    • 1. As HSM gets militarily weakened, expect more desperate suicide attempts.  It happens even in Kabul & Baghdad daily and Somalia doesn’t even receive 1% of the goods the oboe gets.

      2. There are signs of serious internal  struggle within HSM now if the recent speeches of Dahir Aways is taken into account. 

      3. There are, finally, some signs of goodwill and hope emanating from Mogadishu. The forces of chaos will not be happy with it.

      4. Most importantly, the various Somali security units are infiltrated by those who don’t favor peace. Serious efforts is needed to weed them from the forces and establish truly Somali disciplined security forces. There is no short cuts on here. The international community should focus on establishing such forces drawn across the nation. Less than 10% spent on AMISOM will be enough.  

      Finally, the Somali PM, the intended suicide target (and at least five of his lucky able ministers. They escaped because they all left their seats when the PM started his speech), captured the situation clearly when he wrote:


      ‘There is no doubt that we face formidable challenges between now and August. We know from yesterday’s horrific events that people are out to wreck the opportunity for peace. In the past, Somali politicians have been guilty of fracturing — just at the moment when citizens expect and hope for the greatest leadership. Inevitably, some political factions will sow disunity. They must not prevail. We know only too well where that leads. Somali leaders must come together, and stay together, at the local, regional, and national levels to take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity. At the same time, we need to be realistic that progress will be incremental.

  2. Pingback: Somalia: Evaluating Press Narratives of Reconstruction in Mogadishu | Sahel Blog

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