Mogadishu’s vanishing heritage shelters homeless, at a great price

Wednesday June 21 2023

This photo taken on June 12, 2023, shows a lighthouse in Mogadishu, Somalia that collapsed on May 5, 2023. PHOTO | ABDULKADIR KHALIF | NMG


In 2014, Kenyan author Rasna Warah arrived in Mogadishu to launch a book she had co-authored Somali historian Somalis, Mohamud Dirios and Ismail Osman. It was a depiction of how the Somali capital Mogadishu had lost its face in the three decades of war and subsequent violence from Al Shabaab militants.

The authors had named the book: Mogadishu Then and Now. But nearly a decade later, the face of Mogadishu may be worse. Most ancient buildings have been left to decay and nearly half million people are internally displaced by all kinds of disasters from conflicts, climate changes and other natural or man-made tragedies. In Hamarweyne and Shangani districts, what stood as iconic architecture is all gone or defaced.  

The loss is human too. On May 5, for instance, four boys were killed after the Mogadishu lighthouse partially collapsed from the top section, sending down bricks that fell on the victims who were sleeping at the side of the old edifice.

Read: Shabaab a symptom of Somalia’s misfortune

While everyone mourned their death, focus was more on the importance of the collapse of one of the most photographed lighthouses, most recently in the book Mogadishu Then and Now which dedicated the first two pages of the pictographic book to the building.

The lighthouse was so popular that it was also photographed in the highest denomination of Somalia’s existing currency: The One Thousand Somali Shillings (SSh1,000) and in postcards used by the defunct Somali Post Office.


Calendars and other publications also occasionally picked a photo of the landmark building to make the graphics more attractive.

Built by the Italian colonial administration nearly a century ago, it had always triggered the talk of the state of other legendary buildings that were ruined during the terrible years of the civil war.

 All those buildings and others containing hugely significant history like Masjidka Jaamacadda (the universal mosque) have suffered from utter neglect, particularly since they are occupied by homeless people who run to Somalia’s largest urban centre for safety and in search of better opportunities.

Last month, Shangani District Commissioner Mr Aweys Amudi, after the tragedy, said the homeless people should either leave the derelict structures or alert authorities of any possible collapse.

“Poor families living inside such buildings or nearby to alert district authorities about possible threats,” said Amudi while conveying his condolences to the grieving family.

Read: OJUOLAPE: Somalia’s census will help address its problems

Yet the official admitted that the iconic building stood as a flare of hope, directing boats and ships, some from faraway lands.

Amudi’s Shangani administration, the city’s Banadir governorship (the authority encompassing Mogadishu metropolitan region) and the larger Federal Government Somalia are all blamed for the neglect of historic building such one that was once used by Sayyid Sa’eed Barkhash, the Sultan of Zanzibar and who at the same time ruled Banadir (a modification from Swahili word Bandari or coastal harbour).

Several enthusiasts of historical sites believe that many buildings can still be salvaged from total ruins like old hotels, ancient mosques, the cathedral and the small church located around Mogadishu’s Zero-kilometre area.

Mr Mohamed Abdi Ware, a former president of Hirshabelle, one of the Federal Member States of Somalia and currently serving one of the advisors of Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, expressed disappointment regarding lack of conservation actions.

In a Twitter message on 6th of May, Ware wrote, “The iconic Mogadishu Lighthouse is almost gone,” asking where the NGOs are doing a million and one thing.

He further questioned, “Where is the civil society or the business community? The Mogadishu municipality or the ministry of heritage,” concluding with more stringent question, “Does anybody care?

Read: NGUGI: AU and UN, can’t you see Africa’s looming meltdown?

Since there are hundreds of thousands of displaced peoples roaming within Mogadishu, any available space including historical sites are vulnerable to unlawful occupation by squatters. Hence, the disaster on ill-fated Mogadishu lighthouse building triggers all authorities to address the displacement crisis and care for historical structures. 

Mr Mohamed Mohamud Quluhiye, a former planning director of Somalia’s Coastal Development Project (CDP), a scheme framed to assist artisanal fishers in coastal areas, had his office in the lighthouse in the 1980s. He recalls the building having no air-conditions.

On Wednesday, Quluhiye who is currently Chairman of Puntland Marine Academy in Bosaso town, the commercial capital of the Puntland State of Somalia, 1500 km northeast of Mogadishu, shared his memories with Nation over the phone.

“CDP had its headquarters in the lighthouse for 6 years before we moved from Shangani to a larger compound in Heliwa district where we had big stores and car park facility,” Quluhiye said, adding, “But the natural fresh air, filled with sea breeze engulfing the lighthouse is almost unforgettable and eternal in my memory.”         

Quluhiye wondered why institution like Unesco has not designated Mogadishu’s Hamarweyne and Shangani – Old town with historical buildings - World Heritage Site.