A single image speaks volumes
Written by Liban Obsiye on Tuesday, August 8, 2023
Somalis are a highly creative people, showcasing their talents across various media and cultural domains. Photography, in particular, has become a widely popular form of self-expression and communication. This is unsurprising given the widespread availability of smartphones and advanced digital cameras, making it easier than ever to capture photos for personal or professional purposes. Additionally, the prevalence of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram has contributed to a photography renaissance in Somalia, as individuals use these platforms to share personal stories, information, and business ventures. This is excellent news because photography is one of the most compelling forms of visual storytelling, offering accessibility, entertainment, and inspiration. In a country like Somalia, where such qualities are desperately needed, photography plays a vital role in fostering new ideas and stimulating conversations.
Regrettably, there are still individuals in Somalia who fail to recognize the significant value of art in educating, informing, and entertaining the population. In this article, I aim to make a strong case for the importance of art, specifically by analyzing a photograph taken by Nura Iman, a Somali photojournalist and digital communications strategist. This particular photograph is no ordinary picture; it is a national award-winning image selected by Somalia’s National Union of Journalists (NUSOJ) from a vast array of submissions. Furthermore, the winning picture was chosen by acclaimed Australian photojournalist Adam Ferguson, as the competition was jointly sponsored by NUSOJ and the Australian High Commission in Kenya.
The photograph depicts young Somali children playing football in the late afternoon, situated alongside war-ravaged buildings that appear at the brink of collapse. Despite the precarious surroundings, most of the children are engrossed in their game, chasing after a ball suspended mid-air. Two children sit atop an upturned fishing boat, colored blue and white, adding an additional layer of intrigue to the image. Overhead, naked electricity lines dangle precariously, adding an element of danger. The photographer, Nura Iman, captured this scene from the opposite side of the road while the children immersed themselves in their game.
A photograph of children playing football may seem ordinary, as football is a universally popular sport. However, what sets this image apart is the broader narrative it conveys: the story it tells, the historical context it presents, and the future hope that can be derived from it.
The weathered, bullet-riddled buildings serve as a stark reminder of the violent and destructive Somali civil war, which spanned nearly three decades. This conflict left in its wake shattered lives, destroyed futures, and widespread devastation of public and private institutions. It also inflicted deep emotional wounds and bred mistrust among the Somali people. Yet, despite enduring significant trauma, both the people and the nation remain resilient, standing tall much like the crumbling structures. These buildings bear witness to untold suffering and serve as a poignant historical testament. With renewed commitments to peace and stability from both Somali citizens and the government, these edifices have the opportunity to be restored and rebuilt, symbolizing a brighter future.
In the far right corner of the photograph sits an upturned fishing boat, with two children perched upon it. This abandoned vessel, now mere waste, should be sailing the open seas. Anyone familiar with the area captured in the photo would be aware that just beyond the ruined buildings lies the vast ocean where children play and local fishermen try to earn a living, often using unsafe wooden vessels. Furthermore, the Mogadishu fish market is located nearby, highlighting Somalia’s untapped fishing potential. It is concerning that despite ample fish stocks in the Somali Sea, the nation still faces recurring threats of hunger and famine exacerbated by the harsh impacts of climate change. Sustainable fishing practices are essential to address Somalia’s food security, economic development, and the overall well-being of its people. Fishing boats should not be discarded alongside dilapidated buildings but rather should be actively deployed at sea to harness these valuable resources.
Undoubtedly, the true stars of the photograph are the children themselves—youthful, vibrant, and seemingly carefree in their surroundings despite the dangers posed by the bustling road and decaying structures. Their hope and courage shine through, reminding us that life is about maintaining positivity and looking ahead, regardless of the hardships faced. However, the challenges faced by the majority of Somali children are also evident.
These children play football without appropriate attire, some even barefoot. They engage in their game in a perilous environment, risking their lives alongside passing vehicles and other forms of transportation, as well as the unstable structures surrounding them. The absence of designated safe spaces for children to play is a pressing issue. Although there has been an increase in small-sized football pitches, many of these are privately owned and require funds for usage. In a country where most children and their families struggle to meet basic daily needs, leisure activities such as these are an unaffordable luxury.
In summary, the unsafe playing environment highlighted in the photograph reflects a broader lack of services and opportunities for young people in Somalia, including accessible education, sports, training, and skill development. Addressing this issue is crucial in shaping a better future for these children. However, it is important to acknowledge that progress takes time. We must also recognize that the very location where these children now play freely and joyfully was once a warzone, claiming the lives of many innocent individuals. The smiles captured on the children’s faces are a true blessing and a testament to their resilience.
Over the decades, thousands, if not millions, of photographs have documented Somalia’s history. Each image contributes significantly to our understanding of the past, informs the present, and aids in the planning of a progressive and prosperous future. Moving forward, we must encourage all of Somalia’s artistic individuals, both amateur and professional photographers, to continue documenting the country’s situation, changes, and progress.