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Somali children play in the war rubble of what used to be the Roman Catholic Cathedral in war-torn Somalia's capital Mogadishu, 27 September 2011. Reports states that the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) is expected to receive 3,000 extra troops from Djibouti and Sierra Leone before December 2011, following the complaints from the forces' commanders claiming that the current number is not sufficient even after the Islamist insurgents of al-Shabab have withdrawn from the city. AMISOM forces are providing protection for the aid agencies that are engaged in humanitarian mission for the famine-hit country. 750,000 people are at imminent risk of death in Somalia while 1.5 million children need immediate assistance including 336,000 children under the age of five who are severely malnourished.
EPA/Dai Kurokawa
Ruins of the Mogadishu cathedral
REMODELING THE PAST

The ruins of Somalia’s war could be rebuilt thanks to these digitally preserved 3D models

By Abdi Latif Dahir

Mogadishu is a battle-ravaged capital, the epicenter of the over two-decade civil war that scattered millions of Somalis across the world. Once a beautiful seaside city, its lone cathedral, ancient mosques, luxury hotels and government offices now remain empty shells hosting internally displaced people.

But a new initiative wants to document and preserve the city’s architectural heritage by digitally restoring these monuments and ruins. Known as Somali Architecture (SA), the project is led by a team of Somali architecture students living in the United Kingdom, Italy, and the United States. The goal is to reimagine how Mogadishu once functioned as a modern African capital, and to help audiences experience how relevant cultural, political, and historical statues and buildings were created.

Yusuf Shegow, a co-creator of the venture, says he was inspired to kickstart it after working on a class project mapping and digitally recreating the city of Manchester in the UK where he lives. The process of researching, redrawing and rendering showed him that one could relive history—if not on a physical scale, then at least on a virtual level.

“I want us to learn from our past,” Shegow, who left Somalia as a young child after the civil war broke out, tells Quartz. Reconstructing these structures, he added, was as much a process of learning as it was about emotional longing for a home that never was. “I left home but home never left me.”

So far, the team has produced up to 15 3D models including the former parliament, the national theater, the monument of the unknown soldier, and the Mogadishu lighthouse.

These animated digital reconstructions are being developed at a time when Somalia undergoes a political, economic, and technological transformation. As a semblance of peace takes hold, foreign tourists are also visiting the country to witness the impact of the civil war and to see what remains of historic monuments like the ones SA is recreating. Some memorial sites and government offices have also been renovated, while the nation’s first post-civil war memorial is set to be erected in memory of those who died in its deadliest-ever attack last year.

Shegow and his team hope to hold an exhibition in July showcasing the virtual models in order to turn more attention to the rebuilding of Mogadishu. They also want to engage the government so that they can oversee sustainable urban planning and appreciate the enduring qualities of architecture. This is important, Shegow says, especially at a time when many Somalis are looking to understand the past to reimagine their future. “There’s hope.”