The grim and sad situation in the dysfunctional state of Somalia, whether the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, or the South with its tiring political quackmire, Al-Shabab and famine ridden stories, constitute the background for all the political and cultural activities by Somalis taking place anywhere in the world today. In that context, the most commendable cultural events which have filled a void are the Hargeisa International Book Fair (HIBF) and the Somali Week Festival (SWF) held annually in Hargeisa and London respectively. These events are organised by Ayan Mohamoud of Kayd Arts and Culture and Jama Musse Jama of Redsea-Online Cultural Foundation.
Although the two organizations initially worked separately towards the same objectives of preserving, disseminating and promoting Somali language and culture; it was only when they got together in collaborated effort that their activities in the past four years prospered. Both events – The HIB and the SWF – have emerged as popular cultural events among Somalis as well as getting the plausible attention of the International community.
Some of the prominent activities and achievements include:
– The establishment of reading clubs for the youth in the main cities of Somaliland, and short story-writing and poetry competition among the youth every year where the winners’ works are later produced in published form. This is a highly attractive platform for young talents to showcase their abilities.
– The establishment of ‘The Hargeisa Cultural Center,’ the first of its kind in Somaliland since the civil war that has plagued the entire country for over two decades. It comprises of a public library, an arts gallery, a small theatre, offices, an adequate canteen, and an open air spacious compound.
– Intergenerational activities where seasoned poets and artists share their experiences with the upcoming young Somali writers and poets.
– Utilization of foreign connections by opening up a window to the world for the youth in Somlailand to highly reputed Somali scholars, authors, poets such as Saeed Salah, Rashid Sh. Abdillahi, Ahmed Sh. Jama, Said Jama Hussein, Bashir Goth, Cristina Ali Farah, Nadifa Mohamed, Yasmeen Maxamuud, Nuraddin Farah, Zainab Dahir, Farah Ali Gammuute, Kaddare as well as other writers from Britain, USA, and the African continent.
– Creating a close working relatiohsip with regional and foreign litereture organizations and individuals. Kenya for instance was the guest country to the Book Fair in 2013; and so was Malawi in 2014. The UK Poetry Translation Center is a close partner with both Kayd and the Redsea-Online. So far the translated works of Somali poets into English by the Center include Garriye, Ismail Mire, Hadraawi, Jama Kediye, Said Salah, Ahmed Sh. Jama, Asha Lul and others. A remarkable achievement.
While enumerating these very heartening accomplishments, it would be foolhardy to be taken up by complacency. Given the domestic situation, the impending detrimental factors bent on putting a halt and U-turn to this healthy trend are strong and ever present. The religious factor is the most formidable because of its wide influence both socially and financially.
Another cause of unease is the volatile political situation in Somaliland and the uncertainty of what the imminent future may have in store. So far the official stance is non-interference with the proceedings of these events since they are seen to be attracting an increasing number of foreigners of different walks of life who, after paying a visit to Somaliland, speak commendably about the merits of the unrecognized region and its system of governance in relation to the all-negative definitions that are spread about Somalia in the world media.
About the Organizers
It is quite obvious that the two main organizers of the events wield huge influence and impact upon the current standing of the programmes and their future perspectives. It is therefore worthwhile knowing them better. Both possess similar qualities and aspirations that brought them together to the extent of marriage. Both are rather independent minded, hardworking persons, firmly committed to the work they are doing and have long decided to make it their career in life. Yet, they have their marked differences.
Jama, the director of Redsea Online Cultural foundation, right from the beginning wanted to do something worthwhile in Somaliland and diligently kept its pursuit. He has long chosen the field of publication, establishment of a private library and bookshop, and the management of an independent Cultural Center in Somaliland hopefully enjoying the backing of the youth, students and the liberal elites. He is fully supportive of any venture attributive to the furtherance of this cause.
Ayan pursues a somewhat similar objective personally, but within a different scope. She undoubtedly stands for Somaliland, but cannot be totally confined to the limitation of that scope for two main reasons. The first is that the human resources she is bound to engage with – people with the calibre she desires – for making her art and cultural project a success go far beyond Somaliland. She so badly needs the cultural, artistic, and financial support of Somalis, males and females, of high calibre both domestically and in the diaspora to sustain the high standard of the program. And for the same matter, also foreign financial and literary aid and assistance. That obliges her to be more open-minded politically although she is a staunch supporter of the secession plans of Somliland from Somalia, yet she is able to engage other Somalis who are more Unionist in their stand. A feat she is adept at personally and to which she gives due consideration. She is the one mainly instrumental in the majority of Non-Somaliland connections. Whether Somalis and non-Somalis, it is quite noticeable that, over the past few years, the female participation has seen a marked increase in influence, positively of course, due to the quality brought on board by Ayan’s perseverance and persuasion.
In both events – HIBF and SWF- the media of communication are Somali and English. In their keenness to ensure the success of both events, the organizers Jama and Ayan, discretely engage a hardworking competent team of volunteers which has ultimately become almost indispensable over the past few years. However, there is a distinction in the personal attitudes and approaches of the two partners.
Whereas Ayan, with an amazing modesty prefers to entrust the task of introducing and running of the sessions to the best performers of the hardworking force and confines her major appearance to the Welcome Address at the beginning of the program and the Farewell Thanks on the closing day of the festival; (where one has to bring her to stage grudgingly for she prefers the limelight for the artists) Jama, to the contrary, in his enthusiasm not to leave anything to chance orientation, chooses to be at the Podium of the Book Fair for introducing almost every session, whether in English or Somali throughout the event, overexerting himself of course. Such a personal approach does not bode well with Somalis who are so critical of persons who are wont on seeking the limelight.
It’s also important to note that Jama makes no secret of his political allegiance to Somaliland and partisanship in his stand. That is why although the Hargeisa Book Fair is called ‘International Book Fair’, yet Jama deliberately politicizes the event and sees to it that the opening session every year is always opened by the Somaliland national anthem, sung by a band of youngsters donning the Somaliland national flag while the audience rises up in solemn observation. That is of course is intended to drive a lesson home.
The other instance that comes to mind in this context is one that occurred just in 2014 HIBF program. Of all the teeming elites in Somaliland, it was Edna Adam, a former first lady of Somalia, a polarizing figure known for her hatred and tirade divisions among Somalis, who was invited to speak to the huge audience. As usual Edna spoke about her gigantic role in the reconstruction of Somaliland by raising it from the ashes, while at the same time never forgetting to pour her vehement rancor of Somalia, in the course of her address which was obviously intended to inform the foreign guests in particular and the young Somaliland generation, that Somaliland and Somalia are two different entities altogether, where the people have no similarities in culture and ethnicity.
This is where the cultural events fall short, politicizing a cultural event of this magnitude speaks volume of the danger that could emerge from it, and in some instances this could result in the events losing prominent Somali artists and other figures, who don’t desire to be part and parcel, of a cultural event that uses Somali cultural arts, as a tool to divide the Somali people, when in reality Somali cultural arts is one of few tools that springs togetherness in the wider Somali speaking communities across the globe. There is also the danger of separating Somali Cultural Arts to reflect the polarizing political situation on the ground, so that in the eyes of the organizers, Somali art falls on tribal lenses therefore separating prominent Somali poets and artists’ works in the spectrum of ‘Somaliland’ versus ‘Somalia.’
Its however obvious that without Ayan and Jama, it is almost impossible to envisage the continuation of these two important events in the future. Ayan and Jama have, on the whole, done a profoundly admirable work that deserves our congratulations and best wishes. They alone, are at the helm of uniting Somali artists everywhere and showcase untapped potential through their tireless efforts.
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