Ridwaan Hassan Abdi, a young Somali has returned to Mogadishu to help build peace in his native country after many years in the refugee camps of neighbouring Kenya. Ridwaan has taken with him special skills to promote peace that he gained through IREX Europe’s Drama for Conflict Transformation (DCT) training programmes.
Ridwaan is now running his own theatre trainings in Mogadishu using IREX Europe’s Somali language DCT curriculum. Ridwaan was one of 25 Somali adults trained in DCT who ran theatre workshops for youth in Somali communities in Kenya (Nairobi, Mombasa, and the Dadaab refugee camps) between 2010 and 2012, with United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office funding. IREX Europe ran a series of training of trainers programs, using the Somali DCT curriculum to train adult Somali DCT specialists, including Ridwaan, to run theatre workshops for youth. These specially designed workshops teach youth to work in harmony regardless of gender or clan and to develop skills to think through and develop solutions for community problems they face. On his return to Somalia, Ridwaan found that the skills were particularly relevant to areas of newly liberated Mogadishu. He trained three girls from his community, and they together formed a team that trained 15 girls with the youth theatre methodology. Ridwaan said, “Initially it was difficult as this concept was never used in Somalia, especially in Mogadishu, but now it is improving after regular meetings.” The group is running on a purely voluntary basis with community support in Mogadishu and is generating a lot of interest among youth (in particular girls) in the theatre trainings. The advantage of the theatre for peace methodology is that it can be at a very low cost. Trainings can take place anywhere – in schools, outdoors, or in places of worship. All they need is a trained practitioner and minimal costs for costumes/staging (which can usually be made from materials at home). Communities have welcomed the plays developed by youth through the trainings and presented in their communities as they are entertaining and engage the audience in issues they face in their everyday lives. It is a method that allows any community member to participate and to propose creative solutions to difficult community issues.
The methodology has been successful in reaching youth in post-conflict areas that are divided by gender, ethnicity, and clan. Monitoring and evaluation of our theatre for peace work with Somali communities has showed that theatre for peace methodologies have attracted large and diverse audiences and have created “a community solidarity effect.” IREX Europe has successfully used the methodology thus far with Somali communities in Kenya and in Somaliland, as well as with youth in Central Asia and in Indonesia.
Somalia’s once vibrant cultural sector has been all but destroyed, and many talented poets, playwrights, artists and writers have left the country. The absence of government structure to coordinate the management of cultural property has further caused the decline of the sector, and much cultural memory has now been lost. The efforts of civil society, donors, and Somali artists have so far had mixed results: the reopening of the Somalia National Theatre despite being roofless and bullet-ridden in March 2012 for instance, was followed shortly after by a suicide bombing that killed six people. The ban by Al Shabaab on music has made the environment particularly difficult for musicians and singers, who even in an increasingly secure landscape will continue to be at risk to extremist violence, in particular leading music groups such as Waayaha Cusub. However, despite these challenges, Somali cultural actors believe that the right kind of cultural unity may be a faster route to peace than any military solution.
Why should culture be supported in Somalia?
Integrating culture within development is crucial to tackling current development challenges, a view that is becoming widely recognised due to its connection with human development and freedom, and will likely be included in the Post-2015 agenda as the cultural dimension (or fourth pillar) of sustainable development. Culture is a critical catalyst for identity formation and nation building and reinforces and expands the cultural confidence of former colonial societies and their Diaspora communities. The cultural industries are also worthy of investment because of the returns that they generate in new and indigenous forms of employment, production and exports. In post-war societies, there is evidence of a popular need to immediately restore war-damaged heritage and to revive traditions that had become obsolescent because of the war. This seems to answer to a strong psychosocial need to re-establish the familiar and the cherished, establish a “thread of continuity” in a rhythm of everyday life that has been shattered. In such situations, the crucial role of culture must be recognized and incorporated early in the recovery process.