August 6, 2012 4:00 AM EDT

Mogadishu is enjoying its longest sustained peace in 21 years of civil war. But don’t mistake that for a return to normality. As TIME contract photographer Dominic Nahr’s pictures reveal, when the tide of war rolled back off Somalia’s capital, it left behind one of the world’s strangest-looking cities. Every building shot-up, every road ruined—a tropical Dresden on the Horn of Africa standing testament to an extraordinary capacity for destruction. And yet, as the city recovers, that grey and dusty tableau of annihilation only accentuates the bright shoots of returning life: the red of a head scarf, the orange covers on a refugee shelter, the florescent turquoise of the sea.

No one knows what Mogadishu’s future will look like. No one even knows whether its peace will last. But already there is a lesson: even in the most ruined city in the world’s most failed state, life and color—and hope—endures.

Dominic Nahr, a TIME contract photographer, is represented by Magnum.

Alex Perry is TIME’s Africa bureau chief.

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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