The second day of the festival dawned bright and early for us at the biggest literary festival in the Horn of Africa. The day was filled with many activities for those were searching to find something to learn what’s new and happening in the African literary game. The days here have been very warm meaning that I have been walking around in T-shirts and jeans and feeling sorry for the womenfolk who have to cover all parts of the body due to cultural considerations.
There were many events on the second day. This blogger couldn’t attend all of them partly because some were conducted primarily in Somali a language which I think I need to add to my list of “must learn” languages. One of the most exciting ones for me was a morning one in which Nigerian writer, poet, dramatist and literary critic Prof Niyi Osundare was in conversation with Siham Rayale. Nigeria is the focus country for this year’s festival and Prof. Osundare, winner of the 1986 Commonwealth Poetry Prize for his collection The Eye of the Earth back when it existed and was in demand, is one of the Nigerian writers that was invited. He also won what was the biggest award in African literature the Noma Award in 1991 before it was discontinued.
He read poems from some of his books using song and had the audience participating as he used the chant and response technique, which held our attention and was enjoyable for many. The one poem that stuck with me the most was The Earth Will Not Die as it was one that reminded us humans that however much we damage the earth it will survive us. Yes dentist killer of Cecil the Lion, I’m looking at you.
With his presentation done, there was a question and answer session where he taught us a few things. Responding to the age old question of how writers come about, he stated that it was a case of both nature and nurture. He explained that of the large amount of literature coming out if Nigeria, 60% was poetry in spite of those believing that it’s all prose in the West African country. He had been around the continent in countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Morocco and was enthusiastic about the future of poetry. He also reminded that next generation that humility would go a long way in ensuring the legacy of the African literary tradition is maintained and built up. Astute words from someone who knows something about the now and the future that could, and should, be. In closing, Prof. Osundare had his Somali audience smiling as he mentioned how charmed he was by the people of Somaliland who he described as energetic, enthusiastic and warm.
Also of interest was the Women of the World session with activist and women’s rights advocate Edna Adan, moderated by Southbank Centre artist director and Women of the World Festival founder, Jude Kelly. Adan is a trained nurse who had a dazzling career at the WHO and eventually became the first female foreign minister of Somaliland. She is also the lady who built Somaliland’s first maternity hospital and trained 1,000 midwives. She told the audience how she had to navigate from girl to woman in a society that did not always allow women in certain spaces. As a girl all she wanted was to do what the boys were doing; play football, learn to read and write et al. The cheek of that young girl in a conservative society. Adan then went on to explain having to always defend her space as a woman, a black woman and African in whatever space she found herself in locally or abroad. She also spoke on violence against girls and women as acts of cowardice. Adan opined that, despite her marginalization growing up as a girl, it appeared that life had become harder for the girls in the city than it was when she started nursing in 1961.She encouraged everyone to teach sons that it is dishonourable, cowardice to touch or rape a girl.
As a former Foreign Minister after a question from the audience, she also waded into the Somalia Vs Somaliland debate. She explained that as far she was concerned, and I’m paraphrasing here, the union of the two states was dead. The two countries should work together as neighbours in trade, tourism and other aspects.
With those two sessions done, the rest of the afternoon was mainly in Somali that I could not follow. The plan initially was to walk out with a friend of mine and see the city; we had in the last few days been only going from the hotel to the festival venue and back. That plan was quickly quashed by Mohammed who was coordinating the festival transport. Turns out that with the heat being so bad in the middle of the day everything would be at a standstill as everyone went for a siesta.
The events continued at 4pm after which I joined the festival founder Jama Musee and a few other writers like Nigerians Prof Niyi Osunduro, Chuma Nwokolo and Okey Ndibe for a meal. With us was South African Jonny Steinberg and Malawi born London based Prof Mpalive Msiska. I sat with these older gentlemen and learnt a lot about being a man and being a writer respecting his craft. The conversations continued to the hotel where the festival guests were based. These men who have been in the game and done amazing things reminded me that I needed to work harder and not expect instant success in life. They are lessons that we hear every day but when they are given by such respected folk they stick with you.
As I waited for the evening treat we had been promised, I watched football in my hotel room. Kenyan football team Gor Mahia were beaten by Tanzania’s Azam to my chagrin. Fortunately Arsenal, my favourite English football team for the last fifteen years, stuffed it to the hated Jose Mourinho led Chelsea. It was a blissful experience to say the very least.
Eventually we were driven to the Hiddo-Dhawr Somaliland Tourism village which is sort of like Bomas of Kenya, for the Kenyans, where we were fed with traditional Somali cuisine and water and Coke. There was a performance by a Somaliland performer who had us dancing alongside the locals. The dancing reminded me a bit of the shuffle you see when getting down to reggae but with a bit more brisk stamping of feet and clapping. After a few hours of this, we retired to our hotel knackered and I, for one, wondered whether the events of day three could live up to this day.