I still remember when mothers in the neighborhood used to call me and asked me favors. Very often, under the trees I used to listen to these mothers and write for them letters they would then send their husbands elsewhere in the world. There were no telephones and very few people could read. It was late 1980s and I was in my grade two. The literacy levels were so low that even an entire block might not have one single person able to read and write and would depend on grade two for reading and writing.
Years have passed. Things have transformed. From the onset of the Somali republic collapse, wars and other struggles displaced the need for education. And it was not until mid 1990s when the take off of the education system materialized. Schools reopened and pens were picked from the wrecks. Then, followed the birth of universities and more.
And of course the Hargeisa International Book Fair.
What makes this event strange and eye-catching is that it outweighs many other national efforts. It won the heart of national figures and won the attention of international people. Like Edna Adan, this project is becoming synonymous for Somaliland. And it is all for the good reasons. It is an impossible mission and a great added value for this unrecognized nation.
In the last number of years, local people, local brands and local books appeared one after another. Young poets, artists and authors emerged. A whole lot of generation who are capable of reading, writing and honoring books and written pieces of knowledge was born. Those who were spearheading the Book Fair deserve a credit once more, and even more appreciation for they pioneered Hargeisa Red Sea Cultural Center, Home for the fading poetry, drama, and the art that Somalis once were acquainted with. This platform further intensified the quest for shaping literate and civilized Somali society that finds the book, its culture and the wisdom as their best friend. The hard work of Jama Muse and Ayan Ashur and those who supported them finally paid off. Somaliland should be proud of them.
Thought the advantages and support it has will always dominate and silence its critics, this is not to say this project is without criticism and weaknesses. Many believe that the center and its leaders need to interact more with the community and consider the local taste and tailor their agendas with local issues as opposed to the more worldly view of the center. Other skeptics say it is a venture that is not having a national agenda per se, which is over reliant on donor funding from external sources that might not be sustainable in the future. Another view, may be a side effect to put it more accurately, is the claim that the center encouraged too many youths to step into the writing and authorship rostrum without focus on the quality and as a result, as some say, created overconfident youth, who are teaching before learning, though many see this as a positive sign.
Now, it is a new year for Hargeisa Book Fair. The kick off is on the verge and its euphoria is approaching. Like always people cannot wait. August 1st is the date.
Other articles by Said M. Dahir:
Said M. Dahir