Up to 20 people killed as popular hotel and restaurant in heart of Mogadishu targeted by suicide bombers and gunmen.
Mogadishu, Somalia – It’s Friday afternoon on Lido beach in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. It is the start of the weekend and families in their Friday best outfits have flocked to the beach and the eateries that hug the pristine blue waters of the Indian Ocean.
“Come together, closer, smile. This one is going up on Snapchat,” Zakariye Abdirahman instructed out loud as he took photos on his smartphone.
Abdirahman and his five other friends have come to the city’s most popular beach to show the “other side of Somalia”, the side they say the media ignores.
They are volunteer social media activists and go around the city and nearby towns and villages when they are not at work or at school, taking photographs of the changing faces of their country.
Thousands of people follow the activists on their social media accounts to get a glimpse of the everyday life in the horn of the African country.
“I post the photos on my social media accounts to show people the reality in our city. I take photos of the latest developments in Mogadishu. Many people have contacted me saying they never knew Mogadishu is like this. Others have visited the city after seeing some of my pictures.” Abdirahman told Al Jazeera.
The Somali capital, which was reduced to rubble by warring clan militias after more than two decades of civil war, has been undergoing a revival.
Al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-linked armed group which is fighting to overthrow the country’s western-backed government, was pushed out of the city in 2011. The group has also lost control of most towns and cities in the country but still carries out attacks and targeted assassinations.
With a sense of normality returning, thousands of people have returned to Mogadishu as security has improved. Investors poured millions into the country’s fragile economy. The old part-blown buildings of city have been given a facelift.
But Mogadishu is still struggling to shed its image of recent years. The activists blame the media for what they claim is inaccurate portrayal.
“The reason why I take pictures is because when people Google Mogadishu on the internet pictures of people killed in explosions, people who are bleeding or starving people appear. And that is not the whole picture,” Ayan Mohamed told Al Jazeera, as beachgoers watched from a few metres away.
“I take pictures to counter that image. The media creates and perpetuates these images,” he said.
The Somali government, which has its hands full fighting al-Shabab, has welcomed the moves of these activists.
“We encourage people to show the world the changes the country is undergoing. It is not just the job of the government,” Abdisalam Aato, the government spokesman told Al Jazeera, sitting in his office with a picture of a smiling child at the beach hanging from the wall.
“We welcome those who are doing their part in sharing these positive sides of our country. We encourage the Somali people to counter the media, which is often interested only in news of explosions,” Aato said.
But the activists have their work cut out for them.
Somalia may be turning a corner but some of the old issues remain. The country was back in the media headlines at the end of last month as the UN said some 1.7 million people in the northern part of the country – 40 percent of people in northern Somalia – may die due to lack of emergency food aid as a result of El Nino-related drought.
Yet the activists say that they don’t want the world to focus solely on the suffering of the Somali people.
“We don’t want the media to just show the negative, the suffering. We want them to show our full lives. There is so much happening in Mogadishu and other towns and cities. It seems like they are not interested in anything other than the suffering of our people,” Abdirahman said.
As the sun disappeared behind the waves of the warm sea, the group dashed to Daljirka Dahsoon – a monument erected in the heart of the city in honour of the men and women killed defending the country – another popular hangout spot for the city’s residents, to capture the last rays of the day.
“These are the images the world also needs to see. This is also Somalia, and the happy people you see here are Somalis,” Mohamed said while taking photos with her phone.
The activists said they will continue taking and sharing photos of everyday life in Mogadishu until the world accepts there is more to the city than violence.
“Nothing will stop us. We will tell our story fully. And we will make sure the beautiful side of Somalia will also be online,” Abdirahman said.
Follow Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa