Welcome to Africanews

Please select your experience

Watch Live



Civil war turned Somalia's main soccer stadium into an army camp. Now it's hosting games again

Civil war turned Somalia's main soccer stadium into an army camp. Now it's hosting games again
Hirshabele and Jubaland playing a football match in a stadium in Mogadishu, Somalia, 23 January 2024   -  
Copyright © africanews
Farah Abdi Warsameh/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved


A stadium in Somalia's violence-prone capital is hosting its first soccer tournament in three decades, drawing thousands of people to a sports facility that had been abandoned for decades and later became a military base amid the country's civil war.

Somali authorities have spent years working to restore the national stadium in Mogadishu, and on Dec. 29 Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre inaugurated a national soccer tournament. The competition is a milestone in efforts to restore public life after decades of violence.

Somalia's fragile central government is still struggling to assert itself after the nationwide chaos that began with the fall of dictator Siad Barre in 1991, when public facilities like the Mogadishu stadium fell into neglect.

The air crackles with anticipation as thousands pour into the stadium each afternoon. Crowds roar with the thrill of competition.

The Islamist extremist group Al-Shabab, which has ties with the Islamic State, still sometimes launches attacks on hotels, government offices and other public places, but it many Somalis are willing to brave the stadium, which has a heavy security presence.

"My praise be to God," said Jubbaland player Mohamud Abdirahim, whose team beat Hirshabelle in a nail-biting encounter on Tuesday that went to a penalty shootout. "This tournament, in which all of Somalia's regions participate, is exceptionally special. It will become a part of our history."

Hirshabelle fan Khadro Ali said she "felt as though we were emancipated."

The Somali states of Jubbaland, South West, Galmudug, and Hirshabelle and the Banadir administrative region are participating in the competition. The state of Puntland is not participating, amid a political dispute with the central government, and Somaliland has long asserted administrative independence.

The stadium was badly damaged during the civil war, and combatants later turned into a military base.

The stadium was a base for Ethiopian troops between 2007 and 2009, and was then occupied by al-Shabab militants from 2009 to 2011. Most recently, between 2012 and 2018, the stadium was a base for African Union peacekeepers.

"When this stadium was used as a military camp, it was a source of agony and pain. However, you can now see how it has transformed and is destined to serve its original purpose, which is to play football," said Ali Abdi Mohamed, president of the Somali Football Federation.

His sentiments were echoed by the Somali sports minister, Mohamed Barre, who said the onetime army base "has transformed into a place where people of similar interests can come together ... and we want the world to see this."

View more