When the Somali National Theatre reopened on March 19, for the first time in 20 years, it signified more than just song and dance. Driven apart by regional warlords, militant Islamic insurgents and pirates, Somalia has topped Foreign Policy magazine’s “failed state index” for the past four years. Until an intervention last August by African Union forces, the capital city of Mogadishu had been controlled by the radical Islamist group al-Shabab, which forbade all forms of public entertainment.
More than 1,000 people—including all key government leaders—turned out for a nationally broadcast performance of theatre, music and comedy, despite the fact that six people were killed by an al-Shabab bomb the night before near the bullet-ridden theatre. Performers included expats who had fled the chaos, including members of the Waberi Band, who toured Europe and the U.S. with banned Somali singer Maryam Mursal in the late ’90s. Jabril Ibrahim Abdulle, who worked on reopening the theatre, told the BBC, “Life has to move on: 21 years [of war] is enough. People are saying if we can rebuild the theatre, we can rebuild our lives.”