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After 30 Dark Years, Somalia’s Silver Screen Lights Up

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Witnessing a historic moment for people of Somalia as film screening takes place after 30 years in National Theatre in Mogadishu

Somalia which has been strife-ridden for years seems to be now taking a step in the direction of normalcy in terms of life, people and culture. On September 22 (Wednesday), the Africa’s eastern most nation hosted its first screening of a movie in three decades in Mogadishu, its Capital.

The screening was done under heavy security and gives hope of cultural renewal in the conflict-ravaged country.

Incidentally, the National Theatre of Somalia was built by Chinese engineers as a gift from Mao Zedong in 1967. In a way the history of this cultural venue reflects the tumultuous journey of the Horn of Africa nation.

Ironically, the venue has been targeted by suicide bombers while also been used as a base by warlords. What it did not see in the last three decades is screening a Somali film.

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Well, this did finally happen on Wednesday.

On this momentous occasion, theatre director Abdikadir Abdi Yusuf remarked: "This is going to be a historic night for the Somali people, it shows how hopes have been revived... after so many years of challenges.”

Yusuf went on to add: "It's a platform that provides an opportunity to... Somali songwriters, storytellers, movie directors and actors to present their talent openly."

The evening programme schedule included screening of two short films. Both are helmed by Somali director IBrahim CM and they were "Hoos" and "Date from Hell".

The tickets were priced at $10 (8.50 euros) each.

Disruption of cultural activities

Mogadishu boasted of several cinema halls in its heydays and the National Theatre was the venue for live concerts and plays, till 1991, when the civil war erupted. The open-air venue then became a military base for the warlords.

Reopened in 2012, Al-Shabaab jihadists blew it up two weeks later, as they viewed entertainment as evil. Now, after the painstaking restoration it has opened again.

Down Memory Lane

The restoration and reopening of the theatre is a trip down memory lane for several Somalis. One among them, Osman Yusuf Osman told the news agency AFP: "I used to watch concerts, dramas, pop shows, folk dances and movies in the national theatre during the good old days. It makes me feel bad when I see Mogadishu lacking the nightlife it once had. But this is a good start... I will not miss this historic event tonight.”

Many were still concerned about safety. Hakimo Mohamed, now mother of six children remarked: "I was a school-age girl when my friends and I used to watch live concerts and dramas at the national theatre. People used to go out during the night and stay back late if they wished -- but now, I don't think it is so safe," she told AFP.

Her argument seems to be valid considering that even though the jihadists have been driven out of Mogadishu a decade ago, they still retain control of swathes of countryside and continue to stage deadly attacks in the Capital and elsewhere.

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Those attending the shows were made to pass through several security checkpoints before arriving at the theatre, which is inside a heavily guarded complex that includes the Presidential Palace and the Parliament.

The threats and the inconvenience due to security did not hamper the enthusiasm of many who were eager to see a film in a cinema hall after ages.

Abdullahi Adan speaking to AFP said: "I was not lucky to watch live concerts and or movies in the theatre (earlier)... because I was still a child, but I can imagine how beautiful it was. I want to experience this for the first time and see what it's like to watch a movie with hundreds of people in a theatre."