Marco Gualazzini: The girls of Mogadishu are heading back to the beach
I recently had the pleasure to be one of the jurors for the 2017 All About Photo Photo Awards. We were happy to see so much stellar work submitted and one photographer had numerous images that rose to the top. Marco Gualazzini’s compelling and powerful photographs garnered top prize in this year’s awards, work that was part of his project, The girls of Mogadishu are heading back to the beach, focusing on the Benadir region of Mogadishu in Somalia where attempts at normalcy are beginning to reveal themselves.
Born in Parma in 1976, Marco Gualazzini began his career as a photographer in 2004, with his home town’s local daily, La Gazzetta di Parma. His recent works include reportage on microfinance in India, on the freedom of expression in Myanmar, on the discrimination of Christians in Pakistan. For the last few years he has been covering Africa extensively. He devised and took part in the creation of a documentary for the Italian national TV network RAI on the caste system in India, which has been selected at IDFA- The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, and has been awarded with the Best Camera Work Award at the Al-Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival 2014.
Gualazzini’s reportages have been published widely in several national and international titles, and he has been a frequent contributing photographer to The New York Times, to L’Espresso Group. He is represented by CONTRASTO Agency – www.contrasto.it
The girls of Mogadishu are heading back to the beach
There are over a million internally displaced people in Somalia. A further million have found refuge in the bordering countries or in Europe. Yet a historical and geo-political paradox has also made this “failed state” – a symbol of war on earth – a land of welcome.
Over 30,000 Yemenites have already arrived on the coasts of Somalia, in flight from the Arabian Peninsula where a fierce war is raging, and found a welcome in a country that for 25 years has known nothing but anarchy and chaotic military rule.
The help the Somali people are offering the Yemenites is indicative of the desire for change afoot in the former Italian colony.
The TFG troops, aided by AMISOM, are gaining ground, while Al-Shabaab is using a new terror technique in an attempt to destabilise the capital, which, on paper, has been definitively rid of the Islamists: from a fight for position on the ground, Shabaab has shifted towards a new Al-Qaeda-style, under-ground, asymmetric strategy that seeks to accentuate the sense of precari-ousness among a people already devastated by decades of conflict and famine.
The TFG troops, aided by AMISOM, are gaining ground, while Al-Shabaab is using a new terror technique in an attempt to destabilise the capital, which, on paper, has been definitively rid of the Islamists: from a fight for position on the ground, Shabaab has shifted towards a new Al-Qaeda-style, under-ground, asymmetric strategy that seeks to accentuate the sense of precariousness among a people already devastated by decades of conflict and famine.
The terrorists are striking those places symbolic of Somali recovery: the Lido Beach, Villa Somalia, the airport, hotels and cafés. They are seeking to break the nation’s heart. Physically killing people is of little importance to them; it seems little more than a side effect. Their real objective is to shatter the soul of the country, to destroy all hope.
From Bosaso to Kismayo, the desire to rise up from the ashes is palpable, visible: men and women are rolling up their sleeves, cleaning the streets, clearing the rubble from buildings riddled with gunfire, standing there abandoned as a warning of what war can do; ominous shells left standing for the last 25 years as if to whisper in the ear of the fearful as they scuttle past “Do not dare to hope!” Those days are gone. 2017 is a turning point. This country in the Horn of Africa is holding its first free elections since 1969. Shabaab is multiplying its suicide attacks to prevent voters reaching polling stations; a whole culture is being overturned. Those who created it have shot and killed, but finally, they are on the losing side.
A counter-diaspora is under way, with many – young and old – leaving safe ground to return home. They are building, investing, coming together and encouraging one another.
Beauty parlours and nightclubs are opening up; young folks are timidly starting to play music before live audiences, practice sport in shorts in the stadiums and make their voices heard in politics. Let this roar of hope drown out the roar of the bombs going off at the checkpoints: the girls of Mogadishu are heading back to the beach!
This what I’m working on: a collection of stories that illustrate the heroic, soli-darity-fuelled actions that take place here every day, brimming with hope. Some international media have already reported on them, but the picture re-mains fragmentary. My aim is to piece them together and catalogue them into a single reportage.
This reportage seeks to shed light on these little examples of resilience, these baby steps that are being taken all over the country, in order to promote an awareness of change and to show these people the importance of their efforts, and that they’re not alone.
Promoting and illustrating these indications of change throughout the country is also designed to raise awareness among development agencies and local authorities, so that these moves can be emulated on a larger scale.
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