Mogadishu - Somalia - Photojournalism

Mogadishu - Somalia - Photojournalism

Mogadishu - Gun Laws

Australian Photojournalist John Wilson

I was on assignment in Mogadishu, Somalia when I made this photo. It was an incredibly dangerous period not only for civilians but photojournalists in general just after the US troops had ended operations in the capital and lawlessness ruled the streets

The city was broken into sections controlled by clans and each area was strongly defended by a heavily armed militia. When I made this photo a gunfight between rival militia had broken out down the road and heavy gunfire could be heard. The young men had been waiting for a lift but quickly ran over to usher me into a building and out of harm's way. Just about everyone I saw had a weapon with them which was the only form of security available in a lawless society as Mogadishu was during this time. 

The main concern for me being an Australian photojournalist in Mogadishuwas that foreign visitors had become kidnap targets for groups looking to gain ransom money from their governments and or families. There were no end of safety issues on this assignment which made working all the more difficult.

Australian Photojournalist John Wilson in Mogadishu Somalia


The logistics to get into Mogadishu on this occasion proved very difficult and it was only on the second attempt I managed to set foot on the airfield on the outskirts of the city. My first attempt failed when, after landing, the plane I traveled in, was instructed to depart immediately due to fighting clans near the airport. The desolate empty airport was too insecure to stay so I had no alternative then to climb back aboard and take the 2 hour flight back to Nairobi. We flew back to Kenya and waited several days before a second attempt was made and this attempt was almost thwarted also. The plane landed at the Mogadishu airstrip and myself and three other passengers, two nurses and an aid worker, climbed out of the two engine aircraft into the searing afternoon heat. After we all helped unload some supplies from the plane we shared some sweet tea with a couple of local women that had set up a makeshift stall to sell some local goods to arriving and departing passengers. The stall consisted of a dilapidated lean too against a withering acacia tree and although it was hot the tea was good and the company pleasant as we contemplated the next phase of the journey, the trip into the city.  Finishing our tea we piled into a dusty land rover 4WD and headed out along a winding sandy road on the desert outskirts of the city only to come to a sudden halt when we approached by another 4WD vehicle and a driver who looked extremely anxious. A clan fight was being raged about 2 km along the road and the distressed driver warned us not to proceed.

Our driver swiftly turned our vehicle around and we sped back to the airport. I thought I was about to fly back to Nairobi again but I noticed with concern that our plane had vanished, it had already left for the return journey. Planes didn't stay on the ground long during this time due to security concerns. We all stood around the vehicle wondering what would happen and what we should do. It was late in the afternoon when our driver received a call to say that the road was now clear and we should make haste to get to our location for the evening. We consequently had a fast and furious drive towards the city, finally making it to our accommodation for the night and days to come.


The main photo was made with a Nikon F3 camera and Nikon 180mm f2.8 lens. In my kit I carried two camera bodies as well as Nikon lenses, 400mm f3.5, nikon 20mm f2.8 lens, Nikon 85mm f1.8 lens, Nikon 1.4x and 2x converters, Nikon 55mm micro lens, a couple of Nikon flash units, tripod and monopod and a range of kodachrome colour transparency and black and white film.

US Forces in Mogadishu background

Operation Gothic Serpent was a military operation conducted by United States special operations forces during the Somali Civil War with the primary mission of capturing faction leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The operation occurred in Somalia from August to October 1993 to and was supervised by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

As part of the operation, the soldiers were deployed in a mission to arrest two of Aidid's lieutenants. That mission's result – executed under the command of Gothic Serpent – became known as the Battle of Mogadishu.

The US military withdrew from operations in early 1994 with most troops out of the country by March 25 1994.



John Wilson - Australian Photojournalist

John Wilson - Australian Photojournalist

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