Everyday security in rapidly growing Somali cities

An exhibition of personal stories and photographs taken by displaced people

The ‘Security on the Move’ research project examined the relationship between forced migration and urbanization, and looked into the living conditions of displaced people in Baidoa, Bosaaso, Hargeisa and Mogadishu. Overall, 122 initial interviews were conducted with displaced people in 31 camps and settlements across these four cities. 40 displaced people – 10 in each city – were then given cameras to document their views on displacement and urban settlement and to record their experiences in the city. They focused on many aspects of their everyday security: the physical dangers that they face, along with economic insecurities and their struggles and strategies to meet basic needs. The photographers presented and discussed their photos in workshops. These discussions were recorded and selected stories and photos are displayed in this exhibition.


The photographs and interviews attest to the precarious life of displaced people living in camps. This is particularly acute in a city like Mogadishu where the majority of people come from clan groups which are locally not dominant, and where no formal or informal bodies exist to deal with numerous issues of labour precarity and physical insecurity. Although there are differences in the general security situations, local clan dynamics, and histories of settlement in Baidoa, Bosasso and Hargeisa, the precarity of labour, land and housing continue to dominate people’s lives. There are few mechanisms that effectively address domestic violence, labour conflicts, housing or land issues.


The focus of the exhibition was on the ‘everyday’ and the multiple ways in which people try to make a living in the midst of protracted crisis. The struggles to secure shelter, to access basic services or to make a living were emphasized by the photographers and interviewees. The exhibition also highlighted the capacities people develop to cope with crisis, to mitigate insecurity and to respond to problems.

It is noteworthy here that while the photographers have a local perspective, the pictures and stories reveal the deep embeddedness of Somali cities and camps in a global political economy. The most obvious connections exist through the Somali diaspora, humanitarian and development organisations and the African Union military intervention (AMISOM). The management of camps, the city’s reconstruction, and the trade economy attest to these links.


Although these cities are located across various political administrations and have different experiences of violence and migration, they have all been shaped by conflict-related displacement linked to the wider Somali conflict and the collapse of the central Somali state in 1991. In comparing personal experiences of conflict-related migration – along with broader processes of urbanization and various ongoing humanitarian responses – the exhibition aimed to amplify the voices of displaced people. It facilitated dialogue with national and international policy makers, to discuss means and develop recommendations on how to improve the living conditions of people who are living at the world’s margins, in this case in camps in Somali cities.