Somalia’s National Theater reopened in the war-ravaged capital Mogadishu for the first time in 20 years on Monday with the president voicing hope it would mark a watershed in the long quest for peace.
“Somalia has historic literary traditions that date back more 700 years ... and I feel that resuming such traditions will play a role in the peace process,” Somalian President Sharif Sheik Ahmed said in a speech at the open-air Chinese-built theater.
The fragile Western-backed government, which is waging an uphill battle against al-Shabaab militants in the Horn of Africa nation, claimed it was a sign that things were slowly improving in the pockmarked seaside capital.
“We are here and watching performances for the first time in many years today because of the stability we have in Mogadishu and this is because of the sacrifice made by the national armed forces,” Somalian Prime Minister Abduweli Mohamed Ali said at the opening ceremony.
The hardline Shabaab have resorted to guerrilla tactics after the majority of fighters abandoned fixed bases in Mogadishu in August in what the Islamists claimed was a tactical retreat, but the African Union peacekeeping mission said represented a military defeat.
Al-Shabaab last month also lost control of their strategic base of Baidoa to Ethiopian troops and pro-government Somali forces, the second major loss in six months.
The Shebab and other militia groups have tried to exploit the power vacuum in Somalia, which has had no effective central authority since plunging into war 21 years ago when former Somalian president Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled.
The highlight of the program was a drama about good parenting.
“The reopening of the theater after 20 years represents a major move toward the establishment of entertainment ... people need life and fun, not just violence forever,” said Abdirsak Ali, who attended the ceremony.
“The future looks bright now, Somali literary traditions were about the fade completely, but now that the theater was reopened, people will at least have somewhere to go for entertainment,” said Adan Mohamed, another theater-goer.