By Liban Obsiye
Tuesday August 8, 2023
Somalis are very creative people and many are displaying their talent across various media and cultural platforms and sectors. One of the most popular forms of self-expression and communication is photography. This is not surprising because with the rising use of smart mobile phones and advanced digital cameras, taking photos for leisure or as a professional, is much easier. The high usage of social media like Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and Instagram to share personal stories, information and business venture in Somalia is also contributing to the boom in the revival of photography for pleasure and as an art from. This is good news because photography is among the best forms of visual narrative which is accessible, fun, and inspires new ideas and stimulates conversations. And these are desperately needed in Somalia right now.
There are, sadly, those in Somalia who still do not understand the substantial value of all forms of art in educating, informing and entertaining the population, including photography. In this article, I will try to make a strong case to those in this category by analyzing a photo taken by Nura Iman, a Somali photo journalist and digital communications strategist. This photo is no ordinary photo but a national prize winning one which Somalia’s National Union of Journalists (NUSOJ) have selected among a vast number of submissions to their competition. Furthermore, the winning picture was chosen by the award winning Australian photojournalist Adam Ferguson as this competition was jointly sponsored by the NUSOJ and the Australian High Commission in Kenya which is also accredited to Somalia.
The picture shows young Somali children playing football in the late afternoon on the side of a road and next to some war devastated buildings which look as though they could collapse on them at any time. Most of the children seem engaged with competing for a ball which is falling from the air while two of them sit on an old blue and white wooden up-side down fishing boat. Overhead, there are naked electricity lines wobbling over the children as they play. It is clear that the photographer, Nura Iman, is on the other side of the road as she took this photo as the children enjoy their game.
The picture of children playing football anywhere in the world is normal. After all, it is the most popular sport globally. Yet, what makes this one special is the story it tells, the history that it is presents, and the future hope that can be interpreted from it.
The old destroyed buildings with bullet holes are a stark reminder of the violent and destructive near three decade Somali civil war which destroyed people’s lives, livelihoods, futures, public and private institutions as well as left a legacy of mistrust and emotional scars on the Somali people and nation. The buildings remains standing just like the Somali people and nation but they have been exhausted to the point of collapse. Yet, like the Somali people and nation, they are strong and resilient enough to remain upright despite the decades of battering and neglect. The buildings look as if they are crying with pain and shame. I wonder what they witnessed and would say if the mixture of stones, cement and concrete could speak. Indeed, the barely standing structures are a historical archive of misery and suffering which now have an opportunity to be restored and rebuilt with a renewed commitment to peace and stability on the part of the Somali citizens and government.
The fishing boat in the far right corner of the picture is upside down and two children are sitting on it. The boat, which should be at sea, appears abandoned and thrown out as waste. Anybody familiar with the area the photo was taken would know that just behind the destroyed buildings is the vast ocean in which children play and small fishermen try to make their daily living sometimes with dangerous unseaworthy wooden vessels . Nearby, on the other side of the road where the children are playing is the Mogadishu fish market. From the picture it could be argued that Somalia’s important and lucrative fishing opportunities is been underutilized by the Somali people and international investors. Even more worryingly, despite the vast fish stock in the Somali Sea, there are still recurrent threats of hunger and famine owing to the harsh climate change impact. Sustainable fishing is crucial for addressing Somalia’s food security, economic development and the health of the population. It should not be hidden behind the destroyed buildings and fishing boats should be safe and at sea bringing the fisheries potential to life not lying on the side of a dirt road.
By far, the stars of the photo are the children: young, vibrant and not a care in the world about their surroundings as they play by the side of a dangerous and busy dirt road alongside semi-crumbling buildings. The hope and courage of youth is evident and good on them: life is about positivity and looking forward no matter how tough things are. However, the challenge for the majority of children in Somalia is evident too.
The children are playing football without the appropriate clothing including the footwear and one is even barefoot. They are also playing in a dangerous place where their lives are at risk from passing cars and other forms of transport as well as the unsafe surrounding structures. The fact is there are no designated spaces for children to safely play and, where they exist like the increasing number of small sized football pitches, they are private and cost money to use. Money is something most children and their families barely have to cover their essential daily costs let alone spend on leisure in Somalia.
Overall, the unsafe playing environment can be extended to the general lack of services for young people in terms of accessible education, sports, training and skills which must be addressed urgently to help them have a better future. Yet, progress does not happen overnight and we must recognize that the place where the children are now freely and happily playing was once a warzone where many innocent people lost their lives. Some of the children are smiling too which is always a blessing and a bonus.
There are thousands, if not millions, of pictures which show Somalia through the decades and the one taken by Nura Iman is one of them. Each one of these pictures is an important contribution to Somalia’s history and we must look at them carefully to understand the past, shape a better present and plan a progressive and prosperous future. Going forward, we must encourage all our artistic people, including amateur and professional photographers, to continue documenting Somalia’s situation, changes and progress.