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Mama Maryan’s Pursuit of a Legacy of Peace through the National Museum of Somalia

Maryan Adan Amin with the Director-General of UNESCO during her Historic Visit to Somalia in February 2020 © Permanent Delegation of the Federal Republic of Somalia to UNESCO

On July 1st of 2020 amidst worldwide museum closures due to the COVD-19 pandemic, Maryan Adan Amin, or as commonly known, Mama Maryan, was preparing to celebrate the re-opening of the Museum of Mogadishu, with her two sons, and a host of community volunteers.

Two years earlier, Mama Maryan, who works in the Social Affairs Section at the Prime Minister’s office on building social cohesion in Somalia and bringing back its rich culture, embarked on a journey to contribute to the physical rehabilitation of the National Museum. She held a vision that the National Museum would stand as a beacon of hope for cultural revival and social cohesion after 30 years of civil unrest.

A mother, who considers herself an activist,  Mama Maryan was pleased to be part of such an important initiative. She found her energy and hope both resonating with her colleague Ismail Abdullahi who shares the Site supervision task with her, as well as the 40 young people who took part of this project. 

“I consider myself the mid-age of Somalia, the bridge between a legacy left by my elders in a culture rich Somalia, and the younger generation who has never had this opportunity to witness a culture of peace and rich heritage, until now,” said Mama Maryan. The COVID-19 Pandemic has destabilized the whole world. Social cohesion takes on a new urgent relevance in Somalia in this context.

“I grew up in schools that believed in a strong cultural education, where theaters were alive with vibrant performances, and that is the inheritance I carry. For 30 years now, we have none of that anymore. If this is brought back, it will be the force that will move our country forward.”

The museum was inaugurated by the President of the Federal Republic of Somalia as part of nationwide celebrations to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the country’s Independence. The simultaneous inaugurations of the National Theater as well as the National Library demonstrate the country’s commitment to revive Somalia’s rich and diverse cultural institutions, unite the Somali society, especially the younger generations, in a culture of common heritage and peace building.

UNESCO has been working closely with the Somali Ministry of Education, Culture and Higher Education, the Somali National Commission for UNESCO and the Permanent Delegation of the Federal Republic of Somalia to UNESCO to support the development of a National Strategy for Culture, which will include a programme of capacity building and support for the staff of the National Museum. This came following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen cooperation in the fields of culture and education, which was signed by the President of Somalia and the UNESCO Director General during her historic visit to Mogadishu on 11 February 2020. It also follows the ratification of two UNESCO Conventions in the field of World Heritage and Intangible Cultural Heritage, which were signed by the President in February and deposited to the Director General of UNESCO on 23 July 2020.

Since the President laid the foundations for the museum to become the cornerstone of the country’s cultural rebirth, the museum rehabilitation project was launched in October 2018, making it through alive was a foremost concern for Mama Maryan and the entire community she was working with.

“The need was there, the urgency too. Somali engineers were up day and night to rehabilitate this museum. Funds came out of Somali pockets. Diverse groups of Somalis came together to ensure its success but a lot is yet to be done,” she says. Security issues and threats to their lives were among the challenges that were brought forward. But this did not derail her, or the community’s determination to succeed. The risks were evaluated; even from before the newly added threat of the COVID-19 global pandemic came to be.

“Despite worldwide trends to close down museums due to COVID-19. We know that we can’t afford to stop now and wait this pandemic out. We need this project to bring our cultural identity back. It is a lifeline for us, and we have to take precautions but we must continue what we started.”

Somalia’s new National Museum responds to the African Union’s Vision 2063 for the Africa We Want, which aims to preserve and promote African cultural heritage by creating awareness of Africa’s vast, dynamic and diverse cultural heritage and Africa’s continuing influence on world cultures in art, music, language and science. It also reflects the spirit of the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the protection and promotion of museums, their Diversity and their Role in Society, which was adopted by UNESCO Member States in 2015.

Museums contribute to social cohesion, peace building and sustainable development. UNESCO stands ready to support Somalia in harnessing the potential of this new museum to promote the Somali national identity and improve the livelihoods of communities through the local economic development and sustainable cultural tourism.
Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director and Representative,UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa

The rehabilitation was financed by the Federal Republic of Somalia. The four-story building is set to house collections from all over the country and showcase Somalia’s diverse tangible and intangible heritage. Young volunteers are eager to be professionally trained to manage and curate the museum collections.

“It’s been a challenging but very rewarding journey for me. Working alongside the promising young men and women in Somalia on a project that brings all Somalis together to appreciate our rich heritage has been truly inspiring,” concluded Mama Maryan.

“It is my way to leave my legacy for Somalia, just like the people before me left me their legacy of a culture of peace and rich heritage.” 

Maryan Adan Amin working alongside youth and community volunteers on the physical rehabilitation of the National Museum in Somalia © Permanent Delegation of the Federal Republic of Somalia to UNESCO

Maryan Adan Amin working alongside youth and community volunteers on the physical rehabilitation of the National Museum in Somalia © Permanent Delegation of the Federal Republic of Somalia to UNESCO