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Spotlight on Somalia, a nation abandoned

Text by Sarah LEDUC

Latest update : 2009-09-08

Africa specialist Pascal Maître is back at the photojournalism festival in Perpigan. His latest exhibit shows the fruits of six years of travelling through Somalia, a nation ‘abandoned by all’.

At the Visa International festival of photojournalism, Pascal Maître feels right at home. Maître has worked as a

photographer for over 30 years and this is the sixth time he is exhibiting at the festival in Perpignan. This time he presents “Somalia: the nation abandoned by all,” a project originally commissioned by magazines “Geo” (German edition) and National Geographic.


This exhibit has no central thesis, given the difficulty of creating a traditional narrative in a nation where restrictions and dangers abound. “Over there, it’s necessary to work under military protection, or you’ll be kidnapped in five minutes. We were afraid to make a single move,” he explains. His reportage consists of several separate trips each lasting just a few days, between 2002 and 2008 in Mogadishu and its surroundings, with one jaunt into Somaliland.


At the exhibit, the visitor is struck by the vibrant colours, drawing one from the ruins of Mogadishu’s green zone to the polluted coast of Somalia. Fighting, education and the environment offer the keys through which to understand the country and its inhabitants, which Maître is sorry to have “left behind”. The French photographer takes us on a guided tour of his work:



“This picture was taken in the green zone, which separates north Mogadishu from the south and was partially destroyed in the war of 1991-1992. You can tell from this photo that this was once an important city, with real cachet. The architecture bears the stamp of the Italian colonial era, as well as Arab and Swahili influences. It’s magnificent. But now, it’s all in ruins. The area is totally abandoned.



“We are in the biggest hospital in southern Mogadishu, supported by the Red Cross, who also provides medicine and supplies. After meeting the director, who let me spend a day in the hospital to take photos, I met a man in their care. He was burned while trying to open a container of petrol. Since there are no service stations, such accidents are quite common.”



“This the Mogadishu cathedral, where the Italian cardinal Monsigneur Colombo was killed in 1989. In 2002, the cathedral was very difficult to access by car, because three or four militia groups each controlled a patch of land around it. In order to gain entry, one needed to secure authorisation from each group. They set up camp there and hustled people. It’s their territory. But today that has changed. Three fourths of the city have been taken over by Islamists – including the Shebaab. A small part belongs to the transitional federal government, supported by the West. And the rest belongs to the African troops who protect the airport, the port, and the area of Villa Somalia, where the current president lives.”



“This is a militia group I travelled with on the way to the coast. They were nearly out of water – that’s what’s captured in the photo. It was surreal, his suit and this huge container. A Somalian NGO put me in touch with them so they could take me through the area of toxic waste – one of the reasons the local fishermen have become pirates. At first, they targeted trawlers, who they stopped to pillage their money. Then, they realised that people would be willing to pay to get their boats back. A second reason for their anger is the waste that Western ships regularly toss into the sea.”

Date created : 2009-09-06