The Letterpress of Mogadishu: Somalia, 2012

19 images Created 15 Nov 2012

The Atlantic
Jonathan Kalan
Mogadishu, Somalia

In a tiny, damp, oil-soaked cellar tucked behind one of Mogadishu's bullet-pocked central streets, fragile remnants of a city's survival clutter the rickety shelves. Their location, hidden just beneath Mogadishu's shelled façade, is perhaps their only reason for survival.

For 45 years, Daha Printing Press has accumulated an inked archive of Mogadishu's intricate, vibrant and violent political and social history. As governments, dictators, warlords, and militias battled for control of the streets above, Daha operated like a well-oiled machine, printing for all who walked in their door. Everybody, it seems, has something to print.

"Even warlords needed to collect taxes," Liban Egal, the son of Daha's original owner, asserts.

Customs declaration forms for Mogadishu's bustling port, still written in Italian from early post-colonial days, sit freshly pressed on the table; they are being repurposed for Somalia's new government. Tax collection slips and Central Bank account ledgers from the military rule of Mohamed Siad Barre -- whose ousting in 1991 launched two decades of civil war -- litter the stock room. Business cards, like that of notorious warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who was the target of a failed American assassination attempt (which in turn resulted the infamous 'Black Hawk Down' incident), fill old wooden drawers. Even United Nations Development Program reports from the 1980's hide under crumbling shelves.

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