Somalia: From “gangster” to grocer


Abdirahman, the actor who plays ‘Ali’, recording for the radio drama Maalmo Dhaama Maanta (A Better Life than Today).

Hoda Hersi tells the story of Abaas, from Mogadishu whose life was transformed after listening to a radio drama storyline about migration.

“I used to be a gangster”, explains Abaas, a first year student at a university in Mogadishu and now the proud owner of a grocery store.

Abaas used to live a life of crime on the streets of Mogadishu. To escape the streets he thought only of how he could accumulate enough money to migrate. If successful, his perilous route would have taken him through the vast, dry deserts of Sudan and Libya, and seen him smuggled across dangerous seas to a new life in Europe.

While listening to Googjoog FM five months ago, he tuned in to BBC Media Action’s Maalmo Dhaama Maanta (A Better Life than Today) – a weekly radio drama addressing issues important to young Somalis – such as relationships, employment and migration.

Dilemma episode
The project is the first interactive drama for young Somalis, regularly inviting listeners to decide the fate of characters by popular vote. In one ‘dilemma episode’, Ali, a young unemployed man, is torn between his wife who wants him to migrate to find a job and his mother who wants him to stay for his education. The overwhelming majority of listeners voted for Ali to attend university at home and build a life for his family in his own country.

In parallel with the fictional Ali in Maalmo Dhaama Maanta, Abaas also decided to stay in Somalia and attend university after relating to the topics of discussion he’d listened to. The programme “made me give up my old life and start a new one” he says. “It helped me [in my decision] to go back to school… and now I’m in my third semester.”

“My development programme”
Abaas is keen to add how the programme made him realise how much he loved his country, and how it inspired him to become a student and business man in Mogadishu. He says, “I call the programme my development programme”, and now encourages other young people to listen to the drama and learn from it too.

Many young Somalis are making the same life-changing decisions about their futures as Abaas. Abdirahman Ali Mohamoud, the actor who plays Ali’s role in the drama, also had a change of heart about migration while working on the drama. “I felt that after a while I was going to try to find a way out of this country. But having been part of the programme, and listening to the audiences’ responses… they tell me I am a part of something good that has impacted the community. I got a lot back from being part of this.”

There’s nothing better than getting feedback like this. Our interactive drama is helping young people understand that they are not alone in the issues they’re facing – and that together, they can become active actors in their own development, and that of their communities.

The Maalmo Dhaama Maanta drama show airs on BBC Somali Service every Friday – as well as local stations in Somaliland, Puntland and Somalia South Central. It’s part of the Hiigsiga Nolosha (Aspirations for Life) project funded by SSF (Somalia Stability Fund).


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