The Hargeysa International Book Fair 2019 was hosted in the Somaliland city of Hargeisa from July 20-25, 2019.
The Hargeysa International Book Fair is the biggest literary fair in East Africa. The extravaganza, now in its 12th year, hosted authors, journalists, academics, publishers, artists, journalists, and other professionals from 23 different countries this year. Apart from the literary stuff, there were six days of action in the East African nation from the circus, to exhibitions, to chess matches, to concerts, and more. While it was always going to be difficult to crystallise such a huge event, this blog will focus on mainly the literary highlights.
Before the official opening ceremony of the fair, all the international delegates and guests of the fair were invited to dinner by Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi. You know that a fair and literature is highly regarded by a country when the opening dinner is hosted at the Presidential Palace. It looked like it was going to be a very good fair.
It was a full house at the opening ceremony of the festival with speeches from among others Somaliland Vice President Abdirahman Abdillahi Saylici, Hargeysa International Book Fair Patron Dr Edna Adan Ismail, EU Ambassador to Somalia Nicolás Berlanga Martinez, German Ambassador to Somalia Annet Gúnter, Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Ibrahim Nasr.
While welcoming the guests, festival founder and director Dr Jama Musse Jama said, “while we at Hargeysa Cultural Centre endeavour to expose our guest to Somali culture, arts and literature for the rest of the week, tonight we will together experience the hospitality of Somaliland government, meet some of our officials and have time to share the political predicaments of our nation.”
The first morning also included keynote addresses from a poet and renowned playwright Said Salah and Dr Auma Obama.
Panels are the bread and butter of any true literary festival as we get to hear writers and others speak about things they are knowledgeable and have passion about. There were over forty-six panels with 91 panellists, forty-five of whom were female, speaking about everything from the role of the youth, media, role of libraries, the SDGs, and everything you could imagine. Reproducing all the panels at this fair is not practical as we doubt many of our readers will even finish going through the whole blog. Here are some of the more memorable.
There were two panels dedicated to the Guest country Egypt. The first one had panellist’s researcher and University of Cairo lecturer Bothaina Sayed, educational specialist and lecturer Dr. Adhif Ahmed Budayr Shaahiin, Mariam Sayed Ahmed, and Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Ibrahim Nasr. They shared their experiences and what peaceful coexistence meant for them from their perspective. In the second one entitled, “The Historical and Socio-Economic Cultural Ties between Egypt and the Somaliland” Ahmed Ibrahim Awale, Mariam Sayed Ahmed, Bothaina Sayed, and Dr. Adhif Ahmed Budayr Shaahiin looked at the multi-faceted connection between Egypt and the Somali region.
Then there was the panel “Enabling Environment – Art, Culture, Knowledge Production” moderated by Dr Jama Musse Jama with a panel of Prof Michael Walls, Dr Mpalive Msiska, and Prof Madhu Krishnan.
There were also two panels of young Somaliland artists starting with “Street Photography and Story Telling” featuring award-winning Photographer, youth activist and a doctor of Optometry Adnan Abdo Mohamed and Duale is a professional artist and photographer Bahja Mohamed. The second of the artists’ panels was on Painting with professional artist and painter, photographer and art instructor Nujuum Ahmed and visual artist and advocate Najaah Mahmoud Suleiman moderated by Yusuf Dahir.
The panel on academic writing and how it contributed through publishing research works was moderated by Michael Walls. The panellists were the University of Nairobi Senior Lecturer Godwin Siundu, Rhodes University Senior Lecturer Lynda Spencer, and University of London School of Oriental and African Studies Prof Laura Hammond. Another panel for the academics, this one on Migration Research, had the Panellists University of Exeter’s Dr Ricardo Safra De Campos, University of Sussex’s Prof Michael Collyer, Durham University’s Dr Jutta Bakonyi, Peace Research Institute Oslo’s Abdirahman Edle. They were moderated by Mubarak the Director-General of Somaliland’s Ministry of Planning and National Development.
Another panel was one on the role of Small Magazines moderated by Swaleh Bihawa featured Dzekashu Macviban (Bakwa Magazine), Omnia Abbas Shawkat, Salma A. Sheikh (The Somaliland Review) Hibaaq Ahmed (BE Magazine), and Ismail Abdillahi (Dhaxalreeb magazine). At the “Literary Art in Djibouti” panel moderated by Dr. Abdirashid Ismail, panellists Dr. Hibo Moumin Assoweh, Aicha Omar Kamil, and Rahma Abdillahi Bilal spoke about art in Djibouti. In a panel on “Oral History & festivals,” Karla Kutzner, Fardowsa Jama, and festival director Dr Jama Musse Jama engaged with moderator Hilda Twongyeirwe.
In Conversation with author/ Meet the author
Literary dos and authors are in the same WhatsApp group. There was the opportunity for Hargeisans to meet and interact with dozens of writers in sessions that were dubbed “In Conversation with author” or “Meet the author.” The sessions typically had a writer in discussion with either another author or designated moderator. Nadifa Mohamed, the author of Mamba Boy and The Orchard of Lost Souls, was in discussion with Billy Kahora about The New Daughters of Africa anthology. Dr Abdirascid Ismail, the author of Reconfiguring The Somali Nation, was in discussion with Xasan Xiis.
Other author sessions were novelist and essayist Maaza Mengiste, who has written Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, and the forthcoming The Shadow King in conversation with Nadifa Mohamed. Another “In conversation” session featured Billy Kahora whose latest book is The Cape Cod Bicycle War moderated by Nimo Jirde. Then Hilda Twongyeirwe was introduced to the Somaliland audience with moderation by Karla Kutzner while Zukiswa Wanner was moderated by Fardus Mohamed Dheere.
Many books by writers from the local as well as the international literary community were launched over the period of the fair. In one session moderated by Cabdillaahi Cawed Cige, the Hargeisa audience was introduced to 20 young local authors in a session conducted in Somali. The writers and their books were Farduus Cabdi Saleeban’s Barbaariye, Abdirahman Abdullahi Shanfor’s Xiliga Tayada, Siciid Axmed Ibraahim’s Dhallin Kaab, Maxamed Saleebaan Axmed, Xerudhalan, Cali Maxamed Ibrahim (Cali Saxafi)’s Suxufi, Kayse Farax Cawed’s Qisooyinka Qaadka, Abwaan Xasan Sheekh Muse Si Arag, Nuxur, Ciise Maxamud Geelle’s Waddani, Samir Weeye Hanashadu’s Aafo Reeb, Nasiim Mohomed Ali Aar’s Between Love, Past and destiny, Salma Xasan and Huda Cismaan’s Maan Gurracan and Mubaarak Cabdi Siyaad’s Hiigsiga Wanaagsan iyo Hoggaamin Toosan.”
Other books launched were Donald Molosi’s Dear Upright African with moderation from Maaza Mengiste, Bhakti Shringarpure’s Mediterranean moderated by Adnan Hagooge, Mary Harper’s Everything You Have Told Me Is True: The Many Faces of Al Shabaab moderated by Abdikadir Dayib Askar, and Madhu Krishnan’s Writing Spatiality in West Africa moderated by Najax Adem.
Poetry and Somali people are considered to be very close and this fair did this justice. At the Somali Poetry Reading session chaired by Muna Omer, audiences listened to young poets Najaah Mahmoud Suleiman, Yasmin Mohamed Kaahin, Aisha Ahmed Mohamud, Deqa Hassen Abdi, Farax Dayaxweerar read from their recent poetry in Somali, English and/or Arabic.
On the poetry night, the audience were enthralled by performances by Maxamed Aadan Dacar, Xasan X Cabdillaahi Ganey, Cabdi Aadan Xayd “Qays,” Muuse Cali Faruur, Cumar Xasan Rooraaye, Maxamed X Cismaan Maxabe, Maxamuud Maxamed Dheeg, and Bashiir Xaddi.
There was music galore at this fair. Guests were treated to traditional Somali Music and Dance by Qaraami session (Nuuraddiin, Carte, Buulo Xuubay) and Hiddodhowr historical band at the Cultural Tourism Village of Somaliland on one evening. The last evening with over 4,000 in the audience featured a live concert with Final Beats starring Mohamed BK and Xiddigaha Geeska.