Book Fair Turns The Page For Literature In Somaliland

Aged just 16, Abdishakur Mohamed confidently presented his latest work to the Hargeisa book fair, an event that has transformed Somaliland’s literary scene over the past decade.

Abdishakur spent four years writing “Ab-ka haleel” (“In the footsteps of our ancestors”), intended as a rebuttal of friends who he says were not “embracing their culture”.

“Instead they see it as unimportant, and their Somali identity is in danger,” he told AFP. At the first annual event in 2008, organisers only exhibited a handful of books borrowed from friends and attracted just 200 visitors.

Ten years on and literature has taken a prominent place in Somaliland’s culture. New writers have emerged, volumes are being edited, book clubs formed and public libraries opened.

The book fair, being held from Saturday July 21 to Thursday July 26, has been a key factor in Somaliland’s embrace of literature.

The fair now has international appeal and attracts exhibitors from across the world while helping to raise awareness of the self-proclaimed country’s relative stability in contrast to Somalia.

Somaliland broke away from the rest of the troubled Horn of Africa country in 1991 — but has gone without international recognition since:

“I come because it’s a space that really allows people from all walks of life, from ambassadors, to politicians, to artists, to thinkers; different people to just come here and share ideas about the future of Somaliland — as well as looking back at the past,” said filmmaker Khadra Ali.

“We are here to encourage the young people and tell them the value of writing, whether it’s books, poetry or things related to art,” said author and playwright Yasmin Mohamed Kahin, whose work was exhibited at this year’s fair. It was only in 1972 that the Somali language was codified by the military government of Siad Barre in an effort to strengthen national identity.

But armed resistance to Barre’s increasingly authoritarian rule slowed the momentum of the language’s formalisation.

The Somali army subsequently bombed Hargeisa, pushing Somalilanders into exile in Europe and the Gulf as well as to refugee camps in Ethiopia. One visitor to the fair is activist Edna Adan, the 80-year-old former foreign affairs minister and wife of Somaliland’s second president, Mohamed Ibrahim Egal.

Source: Daily Mail