Somaliland: Hargeisa Book Fair – Arts, Culture and so much more


Amb Matt Baugh addressing the FairBy: Amb Matt Baugh

And so to Hargeisa for the Hargeisa International Book Fair, an inspiring gathering of artists, authors, poets and more. Established by Jama Musse Jama and organized by the wonderful Ayan Mahamoud and her excellent team, the Book Fair is now in its fifth year.

Hargeisa may have no theatre, no permanent library and no cinema, but this literary festival is rapidly becoming a global phenomenon. Literature, poetry, film, music, theatre, are all celebrated here, building on Somaliland’s proud oral tradition; its already inviting very favourable comparisons to the UK’s own Hay Festival.

This year’s festival saw the publication of a new collection of Somali proverbs. Edited by Georgi Kapchits, formerly of Radio Moscow, this new collection, entitled ‘Somalis Do Not Lie in Proverbs’, is designed to make sure that the Somali oral tradition is given the recognition it deserves.

The Hargeisa working men’s club, decked in the Somaliland colours, provides the setting for the Book Fair’s popular presentations and discussions, while outside busy stalls and makeshift tents display books in Somali and English, organic fruit and locally-made textiles; Coca Cola is also very much on display – courtesy of the new bottling plant in Hargeisa. Among the throng – and it really is very, very busy – you can find Somali translations of Chekhov or English translations of the essays of Galaal. Copies of Mary Harper’s important new book, ‘Getting Somalia Wrong’ were, I am reliably told by the author, sold out – twice.

As Ayan will tell you, you do not build a community by simply focusing on institutions – an army or police force, a government or local administration. You do it by also by creating a shared identity and common values – by changing people’s minds; by helping them grow.

It is for this reason that the UK has been a proud sponsor of the Book Fair for three years now. The UK is proud of our historic links with Somaliland. Somali diaspora communities are among the UK’s most well-established, with Somaliland communities present in almost every major city across England and Wales. The diaspora play a vital role in all aspects of UK society – from local councillors to some of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs.

The UK’s support for Somaliland covers a wide spectrum. As well as our ongoing support for festivals like the Book Fair, we are also providing significant development aid and will continue to do so. Most excitingly, perhaps, we are working on a new initiative together with the Danish Government. The Somaliland Development Fund will help support the priorities of the Somaliland Development Plan, helping the government support prosperity, tackle poverty and deliver basic services, such as health and education.

Giving Somaliland’s young people something to do (some 70% of Somaliland’s population are estimated to be under 30), stimulating minds with things other than khat – these things matter. Put simply, arts and culture matter.

But I am also acutely aware – and often reminded – that much of Somaliland’s success has been delivered despite international aid and assistance. Somaliland’s relative stability has been enabled by Somalilanders themselves. So as we increase and strengthen our collaboration with Somaliland, how do you think we should focus our assistance? How should we make sure that aid helps, not hinders development? I look forward to hearing from you.

As we enter the holy month of Ramadan, I would like to echo the words of the Foreign Secretary and wish all Somalis, and all Muslims across the globe, a peaceful time with their families. Ramadan Mubarak!