How Somalia’s Historical and Cultural Sites Are Silently Fading Away

A drone footage shows the partial collapse of the iconic Mogadishu Lighthouse. | Photo: Social media post


History is a reflection of the past. It decoratively depicts and tells tales that reflect socio-cultural identities. It gives a sense of pride and belonging for societies, and historical sites are cornerstones of such identity and pride.

Recently, there have been daunting and unfortunate pictures that have been circulating on social media about the partial collapse of the Mogadishu lighthouse, a landmark of the city and Somalia as a whole. This is not a new phenomenon, we have seen the same situation in Somaliland, particularly in the historical city of Zaila, where many historical sites have silently faded away.

The overt loss of historical sites and lack of action by the relevant authorities is a testimony to how Somalis have failed and continue to fail to protect their rich heritage; a clear indication of how little value we give to such defining cultural and civilisational monuments.

Why should we care?

Historical sites serve as the bridge that connects the past, the present, and the future. It fills the blanks in our imagination about our self-identity and belonging, and it serves as a reminiscence of our past civilisations. They give us a glimpse of our uniqueness and what it’s like to be who we are, and most importantly, it’s a way to reconnect with our past and communicate with our future generations. A society cannot endure or have a meaningful future without a past. The rich history of bravery, generosity, and the innumerable seminal poetry we inherited from our forefathers is a prime example of how important it is to preserve our history.

Though much of it has been lost, there wouldn’t have been the Somalia to which we proudly identify without its history. Whatever little we have, we shall pass them on to future generations. Our history, culture, and identity can no longer be relayed in mythical tales. They have to be documented, protected, and preserved so our future generations will have an identity and civilisation worth being proud of.

Moreover, one of the underlying reasons for which we ought to protect our heritage is that our great forefathers fought for it. They fought for the continuation of what I refer to as “Soomaalinimo,” and that continuation can only happen by protecting the few cultural sites that we have.

Despite the great importance of preserving historical sites, some may argue that we have bigger problems to care about than protecting buildings that have no consequential value. This argument cannot be further from the truth. Historical sites do have immeasurable values; that’s where our identity stems from. The problems we have, including conflicts and poverty, don’t justify how we have neglected such an important part of our identity. The two things are not mutually exclusive. We can worry about the conflicts and poverty and still protect our heritage. We have a moral obligation to preserve them, and failing to do so will be morally equivalent to failing to protect the rights of future generations.

Contributing factors to the disappearance of historical sites

Somalis across the Somali peninsula and beyond are on the brink of civilisational collapse. Our history is dying a slow death. Our cultural norms and traditions have been endangered by alien theocratic beliefs and imported cultures that have transformed our entire traditions. Furthermore, the division among Somalis has gotten worse to the point where aligning with political interests has become much more important than our Somali identity. This is a risky territory—a stranger place to be.

This socio-cultural and historical problem can be attributed to many factors; the civil war and the subsequent state collapse that followed are two of them. One of the legacies of Somalia’s state collapse has been the destruction of public institutions.

Despite being protected by international laws, the historical and cultural sites didn’t survive. Many historical buildings have been subjected to shelling. The beauty they once signified have been ruined, and bullet holes have soiled what used to be a white architectural grace. Moreover, many heritage sites have been widely neglected, which further contributed to their demise.

The prolonged civil war that ravaged the country isn’t the only contributing element. The lack of public awareness and interest in public institutions are another two evil axes that enabled and still perpetuate the crimes Somalis committed against their own history.

Way forward

As a society, we can’t let this continue. We have to stand up to protect our heritage, and one way to do this is by recognising the problem and taking initiatives led by civil society groups, youth activist organisations, and authorities that are responsible for protecting cultural, historical, and heritage sites.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of this publication

Mahbub Mohamed Abdillahi
Mahbub Mohamed Abdillahi
Mahbub Mohamed Abdillahi is a lecturer, researcher, and independent environmental health and safety consultant. He’s also a staff writer at Gorfayn where he writes about environmental, climate change, social, and cultural issues.

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