Leveraging Culture as a Platform for Peace and Development in Somalia


Credit: UN Photo.

Mogadishu - Somalia’s once vibrant cultural landscape, made of both traditional and modern forms of expression as represented in its poetry, music, architecture, pottery and sculptures, has been devastated after more than twenty years of conflict and civil strife. Buildings and institutions of national cultural significance, such as theaters, museums, libraries and mosques, have been destroyed and are now in need of rehabilitation. Consequently, a great deal of Somalia’s cultural memory has been lost, a situation worsened by the absence of cultural actors and the shortage of skilled professionals  able to manage cultural heritage and its institutions. 

Nevertheless, Somali people have continued to maintain their close knit society during these difficult years, and their unique and fundamental cultural character can still be observed today. Early recovery is also underway following the establishment of the new Federal Government in 2012, and the launch of the New Deal Compact which provides the framework for international cooperation. 

In this context, on 9 May 2014, UNESCO presented to the Government of Somalia a Research Report, the Scoping Study on the Culture Sector in Somalia with the financial support from the EU mission to Somalia. Based on previous and ongoing work to restore, revitalize and revive the Somali Cultural heritage, the Report provides an in-depth analysis of the current status of the Somali cultural landscape. Various actors who have been developing and implementing a number of initiatives and actions that helped sustain the tangible and diverse cultural expressions of Somalia are also recognized. Of particular interest is the fact that the Report not only focuses on the rich Somali oral traditions, modern musical forms of expression among the youth and revitalized literary scene, but also on the protection of old monuments that tell the extensive history of Somalia dating back eight centuries. The Report also proposes a strategy for integrating culture and cultural considerations into efforts aimed at establishing a peaceful and secure environment for the social and economic development of Somalia. 

The event was part of the celebrations to mark Europe Day. H.E. Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, The President of the Federal Republic of Somalia, proudly received the Scoping Study Report on behalf of Somali people in the presence of Government Ministers and officials, members of the diplomatic corps and civil society. Speaking at a press conference, the President stressed the opportunity that this initiative offers by looking ahead and drawing on the common experience in building peace and stability in Somalia, highlighting the tripartite partnership that UNESCO, the EU and Somalia cherish.

The European Union Special Envoy to Somalia, Mr. Michele Cervone d’Urso, pledged continued EU support to strengthening, reviving and rebuilding Somali’s cultural heritage in order to raise awareness on the important role that culture can play in promoting inclusive dialogue and reconciliation, peace building and the reconstruction of Somalia. “Culture is what we are: our identity, our history, our language, our values, our arts – the very core of a nation. Somalia has a rich and unique culture. This is a new beginning and we will open a cultural chapter in our partnership with Somalia” he noted.

As highlighted in the Scoping Study on the Culture Sector in Somalia Report, Mr. Mohamed Djelid, Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, emphasizes that “Culture is a fundamental pillar for the reconstruction of the Somali social fabric. It can effectively contribute to the revival of the Somali identity and be a development opportunity for future generations. Restoration of the political, economic and social structure of the country will only be sustainable if a common view and interest in cultural heritage is shared.”

UNESCO uses culture as a means to re-establish thriving communities and national reconciliation, where culture is identified as an engine of economic development and social well-being. Although further efforts are needed to build a solid and sustainable social structure, the role of culture is recognized as a key element in the design and implementation of development policies, promoting dialogue and shared values, and aiming to facilitate the process of building sustainable peace.