Changing Conflict Actors and their Impact on Civilian Suffering

A young fisherman carries a shark to the local fish market in the central part of Old Mogadishu. Fishing is one of the few ways to make a living. © Jan Grarup

In the refugee camp “Hilaweyn,” also called “Hells wind,” a small boy overlooks the massive camp which had grown to more than 40.000 refugees. The four camps in the region — Hilaweyn, Kobe, Malkadida and Bokomayo — host more than 120.000 refugees. Dollo Ado, Ethiopia. October 2011. © Jan Grarup

Women celebrating the president during a rally before the upcoming election in Somalia 2012. © Jan Grarup

Militias loyal to the president guarding the road at kilometer 18 outside the capital Mogadishu. Kilometer 18 was, for a long time, the frontline between the government army and Al Shabaad militias. © Jan Grarup

Ninety kilometers from the Somali border is Dadaab, in Kenya, the world largest refugee camp with approximately 300.000 people living there. Heavy rains flood large swaths of the Dadaab refugee camp and contaminate the drinking water. The contaminated water creates perfect conditions for malaria carrying mosquitos. © Jan Grarup

Children playing in the ruins of a building destroyed in the Badbado IDP camp, Mogadishu, Somalia. © Jan Grarup

A small girl who is in a very critical stage of malnutrition lies at the hospital in the refugee camp Kobe on the border between Somalia and Ethiopia. Drought in the horn of Africa has affected more than 4.5 million people in Ethiopia. In addition, more than 140.000 refugees from Somalia have settled in camps in the border region between Somalia and Ethiopia. In the area around the border city Dollo Ado, four large refugee camps are already overcrowded. © Jan Grarup

Makeshift camps in central Somalia host both Somalis and Ethiopians fleeing war and famine. The area has not seen rain in more than four years. Many refugees who stop here in 2011 were on their way to Bosasso in the Bay of Aden and were trying to cross into Yemen. Galkayo, Puntland, Somalia. © Jan Grarup

Fishermen cutting each other’s hair at the old harbor in central Mogadishu. © Jan Grarup

Refugee children collecting garbage outside a church in Mogadishu. © Jan Grarup

Forces loyal to the Somali government moving into position in a village outside Mogadishu to protect the capitol from Al Shabaab militias. © Jan Grarup

Habeeb Mental Hospital in central Mogadishu treats people suffering from severe post-traumatic stress. Somalia’s health system is overwhelmed by the layered crisis that the country is facing. © Jan Grarup

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Photos by © Jan Grarup

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Changing Conflict Actors and their Impact on Civilian Suffering

Authors: Dr. Alexander L. Fattal, Jan Grarup • Resource type: Art


The Somali government and Al Shabaab militants are only two sides of a war that has dozens of armed actors. It’s a conflict that has moved across the contested borders of Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, and — as the research and visualizations for the Changing Character of Conflict Platform shows has shown — is extremely dynamic. This is, in part, because of the country’s geostrategic location. Militaries of world powers have rushed to set up bases in the Horn of Africa, in part to keep a careful eye on maritime routes coveted by traders and pirates alike, and also as part of the ongoing Cold War in the Middle East. In such a complex field, no single entity has been able to assert anything that might resemble uncontested authority, making the country less of a nation-state and more of a contact zone. The consequences of the chronic state of conflict have been exacerbated by a harsh geography and climatic conditions that are growing more extreme.

The density and complexity of the conflict makes it difficult to photograph with a panoramic authority. Jan Grarup has tracked this conflict between 2009 and 2013, as the US backed offensive against Al Shabaab intensified, choosing to focus on the human consequences of this layered conflict, pointing his lens at infrastructure in ruins and toward refugees — mostly women and children. He takes us along the path of a young woman who journeys daily to haul potable water home in a wheel barrow and into the back rooms of a mental hospital where the traumatized struggle to keep their sanity. He trains his eye on the devastated built environment and the arid climate. There is something metaphoric to the image of a young boy who has slung a dead shark on his shoulders to carry to the local fish market. It serves as a reminder that the distinction between predator and prey can, in a flash, be quickly inverted. Through Grarup’s images we see, however, resilience, a commitment to flip the script of Somalia as a “failed state” and persevere — even if that means repurposing rubble and rebar as a playground.

— Alexander L. Fattal
Assistant Professor
University of California, San Diego

Copyright information: Photos are copyright © Jan Grarup