Somali radio archives survive decades of looting and conflict

By Adnan Hussein in Mogadishu

September 14, 2012

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For nearly two decades, government buildings, museums, offices and banks in Somalia were looted and destroyed during the country's civil war. One institution, however, managed to escape unscathed: Somalia's national radio archives.

  • Outdated equipment Radio Mogadishu technicians use to create backups of archive contents. [Adnan Hussein/Sabahi]

    Outdated equipment Radio Mogadishu technicians use to create backups of archive contents. [Adnan Hussein/Sabahi]

  • Colonel Abshir Hashi Ali shows off the archives' immense collection. [Adnan Hussein/Sabahi]

    Colonel Abshir Hashi Ali shows off the archives' immense collection. [Adnan Hussein/Sabahi]

Colonel Abshir Hashi Ali, a Somali police officer, took over as head of Radio Mogadishu's archives in 1991, and managed to protect it from fire and vandalism ever since.

"I fought against tribal militants who tried to take control of the radio station and loot the archives. I defended it myself until I was able to turn them away," Ali told Sabahi. "I am proud of saving the radio archives, which are the second-largest archives after those of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which also escaped looting and vandalism. Simply put, everything that I have given for my country will go down as a remarkable initiative, which will live on in the memory of the Somali people."

The national radio archives were established in the 1950s, and contain key documents, political speeches and poetry, as well as patriotic and love songs.

Some of the highlights of the collection include political speeches made at the African Summit in Mogadishu in June 1974, as well as a speech delivered by Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai to the Somali people during his visit to Mogadishu in 1964 during Somalia's war against Ethiopia.

"There were also poetry recitals, religious hymns and political speeches that span from before Somalia was liberated from the Italian and British colonisers right until the collapse of the central government [in 1991]," Ali said.

Even though the archives escaped the civil war, they are still in danger.

Ali said the archives are in dire need of people who have the skills, training and equipment to digitise and save the content before the old tapes completely erode.

"We would like technical training and rehabilitation, which would allow us to create a plan to lower the risk of damage by having the world's latest equipment of automated digitisation, including computers with fast processers and a library that can automatically index and organise the archives," he said.

Archives in need of donations

Director General at the Ministry of Information, Posts and Telecommunications Abdirazaq Ali Yusuf said Ali deserves appreciation and respect for his national duty.

Yusuf told Sabahi that while the radio archives managed to escape looting, the television archives were not so lucky.

Several cultural institutions and Somali public figures have called for the return of state property and symbols of its cultural heritage that were stolen during the large-scale destruction and looting after the outbreak of the civil war.

In regards to preservations efforts, Yusuf said the country received two pieces of equipment from Djibouti that run old audio tapes through an audio mixer, which has allowed technicians to make 7,000 copies of old plays and classical Somali songs and upload them onto an external hard disk.

Dr. Hassan Nur Abdi, a historian and anthropologist based in Mogadishu, told Sabahi "conserving the Radio Mogadishu archives will benefit the most the generation [of Somalis] who is growing up now; they will learn that our country has a history that was not destroyed in the civil war".

"It is imperative that [we] mobilise to procure and use equipment on par with today's modern technology [to convert the archive]," he said.

The needed equipment is not yet available in Somalia, says Nur. He said patriotic Somalis, international organisations that work to advance journalism, and other news agencies should help in this endeavour. Even donating old equipment can improve the current state of the archives and help achieve progress, he said.

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Reader's Comments

  • Cumar
    May 27, 2014 @ 02:31:35AM

    I am here to greet those responsible citizens who saved the archives during the conflict of our home country, so I will say that every citizen will be mentioned in the history. Let we, Somalis, stand for development and prosperity and let us support everyone who love and care the country and the Somali people. (Somalia belongs to Somalis) I love Somalia.

  • Omar somaliweyn
    May 20, 2014 @ 08:05:25AM

    I am here to pass my greeting to all personnel who saved the archive and those who are now working on the awareness program of the Somali people. I say no one can be patriotic by himself, patriotism is something that we are born with and you have fulfilled your national obligation. You deserve first to receive honorary certificate from all the ministries and agencies that the country has etc. and who ever saved something must be given material rewards and you have obviously earned the one of here after. All success comes from Allah

  • AbdulRahman Ramadhan
    September 18, 2012 @ 08:35:36AM

    Great work keep it up the items will be usefull for the generation to come. I have been in Somalia during the down fall of Siad Barre iwitness lots of expencive item goes to waste by looters. if u get the right equipment to tranfer the matterials i can offer free service to help record them on digital as am expert on sound and soundmixers. may Allah reward u for looking after the historc items

  • muharam salum mchume
    September 17, 2012 @ 10:57:19AM

    I sincerely appeal to my Somali brothers to stop violence and restore peace to your country. During the reign of the late Siad Barre we were all proud of Somalia and its capital city Mogadishu. Please Somalis receive the new government and its President. It is not easy for everyone to be satisfied with the government but Democracy says give the Majority what they want.

  • Askar
    September 17, 2012 @ 02:52:26AM

    I was very impressed at this aricle and I thank to those who saved the archives for their role in the protection of the valuable documents..

  • zainab
    September 16, 2012 @ 08:20:23AM

    I want to watch the film.

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