From Somaliland to Nigeria

The festival rose to the third day with exciting discussions on writing, poetry and the guest country Nigeria.

Young women poets and writers opened the stage, sharing their experiences, in a panel looking at spaces for future generations. Hawo Jama Abdi, a poet who was born blind, first composed poetry when her nomadic family accidentally left her behind as a child. Her poem to the wilderness soothed her at a very scary and desolate moment. Nadifa Mohamed, a British novelist of Somaliland heritage, could relate to Hawo’s poem as in her own writing, she addresses a certain absence that is filled through the stories she weaves. In talking about being role models, Yasmin Kahin, a playwright and poet, feels that she and the other young Somaliland women are the first generation of female writers.

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While carving their artistic niche, Kahin explained that they have not had many female Somali writers to look to therefore their inspiration was from other sources. Another challenge to their growth is the modesty these female writers view their work, which can become an obstacle to the recognition and marketing of their work when compared to that of their male counterparts. This discussion raises interesting issues of historical rooting, with regard to the role played by older women and their oral artistic expressions and the different contexts that creative women of the world occupy. As Mohamed insightfully pointed out, the experience of the girl or woman in London is not always the same as for the one in Hargeysa.

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The importance of empowering the girl was reiterated by Her Excellency Amina Mahamud Jirde, the First Lady of Somaliland, who gave a key note address. She lauded the great work the organisers of the festival have done in creating a space for expression. Commenting on political participation, Her Excellency said women deserve respect and involvement for their trustworthiness. Jude Kelly echoed the First Lady’s words as she closed the Women of the World (WOW) panel saying, “lack of recognition of women’s contribution is like denying their soul”. A call to give women the spaces they need to realise their dreams.

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Poetry, as the great Somali poet-philosopher Hadraawi would say, “delivers its wonders when we’re seated and settled”. This was the case during the readings by Mpalive Msiska and Phyllis Muthoni. They brought the worlds of Malawi, Kenya and beyond into the Gulaid Hotel hall through select excerpts. Reflecting on a brutal period of Malawi’s history, Msiska recited: “the hills, bare…have refused to pray for rain. Please take me to the river. I want to plant love in the mouth of the crocodile”. Painful as they were, these lines, like friends, gave strength and consolation. He went on to add that festivals such as HIBF were important spaces of solidarity in the human struggle that each society in the world can relate to.

Hargeysa, like a cherished friend, was praised by Muthoni in her poem titled ‘Hargeysa’. Celebrating the seven years she has visited the city, Muthoni likened the fondness she feels to the fulfilling moments shared over suqaar and spiced tea.

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A highlight of the day was the panel on the 2015 guest country – Nigeria. Professor Niyi Osundare elicited laughter when he remarked that “talking about Nigeria in one hour is like putting an elephant in the market and giving us three small knives to cut it up”. He, Okey Ndibe and Chuma Nwokolo spoke to Rashid Garuf about the political, cultural and social spaces of Nigeria, the most populous country of Africa, with over five hundred ethnic groups.

Ranging from literature to governance, the panellists underscored the need for integrity in the production of cultural material and leadership. Drawing from their national experiences, the Nigerian writers said diversity should not lead to wars. It is important that the memory and lessons of conflict inform leadership so as to avoid corruption, violence and other vices. The challenge for Africa is to ensure good governance that is blind to negative ethnicity.

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True to the spirit of books, conversations were held throughout the day looking at the works of Cilmi Boodhari, Faarax Gaamuute, Hannah Pool and Okey Ndibe. Somaliland regional readers clubs also showcased their published works and read together.

The guests had the opportunity to enjoy the afternoon out at Laas Geel, the archeological site of rock art, on the outskirts of Hargeysa.

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