BBC Africa Editor Mary Harper meets Somalia’s most beloved poet in a rare glimpse into the country’s soul.
In Hargeisa, the capital of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, everyone knows the nation’s most famous living poet – Hadraawi. They call him their Shakespeare. His work over the last 50 years has given voice to Somalis’ desire for love, freedom, justice and peace.
The poetry of Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame ‘Hadraawi’ holds a mirror up to all aspects of life – social tensions, politics, love, peace and the fractures of the Somali people. Born in 1943 to a nomadic camel-herding family, forged as a poet in Somalia’s liberal years pre-1969, jailed in 1973 for ‘anti-revolutionary activities’ without trial under the military junta, a campaigner for peace, Hadraawi’s poetry tells the story of modern Somalia.
Now in his 70s, this encounter with Hadraawi at his home in Somaliland was recorded just as the first rains fell after the devastating three-year drought. The self-declared republic is rarely seen by the outside world, as the shadow cast by the ongoing violence in Somalia to the south is long. But it’s a place Mary Harper has come to know and love during 25 years writing about and reporting on Somalia for the BBC. It is a nation of poets, where poetry is woven deep into the fabric of everyday life.
Poems featured are from Hadraawi: The Poet and the Man, published by Ponte Invisible/Redsea Online/The Poetry Translation Centre. Clarity translated by WN Herbert and Said Jama Hussein, and The Killing of the She-Camel translated by WN Herbert, Said Jama Hussein and Maxamed Xasan ‘Alto’.
Produced by Eve Streeter
A Greenpoint production for BBC Radio 4.