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Artist Hopes Somalia's Long Dormant Theater Can Play Healing Role

Somali national singers perform at the National Theater in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, March 19, 2012.

The stage has been empty for two decades, but on Monday Somalia’s National Theater reopened its doors for the first time since the central government collapsed in 1991.

Somali-born musician Aar Maanta, now based in London, said he hopes the capital city’s theater will regain its place as a national landmark of culture.

“The Somali people are quite cultural and, in terms of art, the theater was quite a significant place. Somalis are well known for their poetry and plays, and the theater used to employ quite a lot of people,” said Maanta.

Five groups of Somali entertainers were scheduled to perform in the debut in the opening play, Dardaarwin Walid, which mean’s ‘Parents’ Advice.’

The African Union peacekeeping forces in Somalia prepared for heightened security around the theater. Maanta said that amid Somalia’s problems, the arts can play a healing role.

“It can help in the reconciliation process,” he said. “Poetry and plays are part of Somali daily life and culture so, if it can be used in a positive way, then it can help heal wounds and bring people together rather than divide.”

Maanta added that musicians in the Somali diaspora have a responsibility to spread a new message about their home country.

“Somali artists outside the country need to also do their part in conveying a positive message," he said. "There’s been quite a lot of negative messaging and also news about Somalia and Somali people, so we have to try and show the other side.”

The reopening of the Somali National Theater is part of a broader, multi-agency initiative to both revive the arts scene as well as use it as a platform for peace building.