Hello Mogadishu, welcome! Our mission is to save and protect the rich cultural heritage of Somalia by preserving it one tape at a time.
Mohamed Yusuf Mohamed is currently in a compact, unlit space within a government facility located in Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia. He is inserting a new audio cassette onto a rundown device and pressing a series of buttons.
He has started a labor-intensive project to convert several decades worth of one-of-a-kind historical recordings owned by Radio Mogadishu, which is run by the government.
One down, a few hundred thousand more to complete.
After a few clicks, the outdated device begins to rotate and its wheels turn. One tape is complete with several hundred thousand more to go. In the adjacent room, there are shelves over three meters tall that are barely stable due to a thick layer of dust and countless audio reels.
Due to the outdated machinery and inadequate number of employees, the undertaking that Mr. Mohamed and his colleagues have begun will require several decades to finish.
He stated, “I come in at 8am and stay until 4pm, converting approximately 30 to 40 audio tracks each day with minimal equipment.”
The only existing audio recordings of Somalia’s extensive history, including music, poetry, religious texts, political speeches, and drama shows from as far back as 1951, are in jeopardy. Many of the recordings are in poor condition.
He expressed gratitude for the chance to contribute to enhancing the past of his nation, acknowledging the significance of the task at hand.
During the time when Somalia was under the control of the United Nations and being governed by its previous colonizer, Italy, Radio Mogadishu was founded.
The news was first aired in Italian, with Somali shows being added shortly after.
During the 1960s, Radio Mogadishu was updated with support from the Soviet Union and started airing in Amharic, Oromo, Somali, and Italian.
War breaks out
The station shut down shortly after the beginning of Somalia’s civil war in 1991. The building was then taken over by conflicting groups. In 1993, the archives were harmed during fighting between one faction and foreign peacekeepers stationed in the city.
The country’s widespread violence resulted in significant damage to Somalia’s cultural legacy. Museums were emptied of their artifacts, either destroyed or sold illegally, and the contents of Radio Mogadishu’s vaults were specifically targeted.
Most of the magnetic, reel-to-reel tapes in the Radio Mogadishu archives, which consist of Somali-language recordings, records, and some manuscripts, were able to withstand the war. However, the collection of foreign language materials was not as lucky.
The implementation of digital technology has revitalized Radio Mogadishu, however its physical records have been deteriorating quickly.
According to Somalia’s federal Minister of Information, Culture, and Tourism, Daud Aweis, the delicate reel-to-reel tapes made from materials such as acetate, polyester, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are vulnerable to distortion and deterioration.
He stated that this is the sole record for the country following the civil war. If we fail to conserve it, it will only exist in photographs as time goes by.
Abdifatah Dahir Jeyte, director of Radio Mogadishu, expressed similar worries.
It is crucial to take immediate action in order to protect the rich history, language, culture, and literature of the Somali nation that is preserved in these archives. The archives of Radio Mogadishu are extensive, holding approximately 225,000 tapes and vinyl records. However, the process of converting them to digital form is not yet finished and only covers less than 30% of the total content.
In 2013, the French government, African Union, United Nations, and Somalia’s information ministry provided support for the initial efforts to digitize materials. The goal was to safeguard the collection and provide access to the music, speeches, plays, and prayers for a generation who had not experienced the vibrancy of Somalia before the war.
However, the effort was unsuccessful as only a fraction of the items were successfully digitized.
The United Nations mission is to protect and preserve valuable cultural artifacts.
The United Nations in Somalia has been collaborating with the Government’s information ministry to investigate potential solutions for the pressing issue of digitizing Radio Mogadishu’s archives.
Kirsten Young, the head of the Human Rights and Protection Group at the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), stated that Radio Mogadishu’s open-reel tape collection is a valuable cultural asset that would benefit all Somalis.
She stated that radio remains crucial for obtaining information in Somalia, and having the ability to access these extensive archives would allow for recent events to be brought directly into the homes of numerous Somalis.