When Jama Muse Jama announced ten years ago that he is holding a Book Fair in Hargeisa. I vividly remember people talking about it and each one giving a different explanation about what the book fair would be. Some said he was selling books, some assumed books would be distributed to people for free, others thought it was a speech about books but many had no idea at all. At the time, people attended the event curious to see what a book fair would look like and what it meant. They soon realized how big it was and the many different components it contained. Hundreds of youth volunteered for the event and appreciated the benefits it has on society. Since then, the people of Somaliland have been accustomed to the Book Fair and each year experience new and enlightening additions.
The one unique thing about this Book Fair is that it is truly “International”, the first and only international annual event that takes place in Somaliland. It brings people from all over the world and gives them a platform to talk, exchange ideas, share moments and learn from each other. It is a typically cultural festival but who would have thought Hargeisa, of all the places, could host such an important event? This is what some of the locals do not get when it comes to the book fair because they have never experienced an international event, they find hard to understand about all the foreigners who are attending the event and are part of the program. It will take some time and some more events for people to comprehend how international events work elsewhere in the world.
Another unique component of the Book Fair is the Moving Library. Like the other issues we mentioned above, it was completely new and when it started people soon realized its importance. A convoy of books would move from one city to another, from one village to the next, until all the regions were reached and book clubs were created because of this. Now every region has some sort of public library supported by the local authorities, even if it is not big but the sprit to have a library is there.
Ten years ago, there were not that many writers, books and book publishers. Today, the event cannot even cover all the locally written books because there is simply no time for everything. All of a sudden, the talent is all out, writers, readers clubs, artists, cultural groups, book presentations, etc. None of them were there 10 years ago or very few were visible and but not known to the public. It all needed a platform to grow, a forum to glow, audiences to flow and a courage to flourish. The Hargeisa International Book Fair has given all of that and the results are visible in today’s 10th anniversary.
One thing local talented youth would still need is how to benefit from this international event to develop their skills to international standards, find regional and international markets for their works and get international interests for their productions. This will only happen when they aim and work for it. For example, a local writer published a book about wild animals in Somaliland in English. This is a very interesting subject and should get the attention of the researchers, universities and environmentalists but that can only happen if the book is written and designed to international standards. The talent is certainly there.
Can anyone guess how this will look like 10 years from now?