Hargeisa! It’s best known as the home of the world-famous annual Hargeisa International Book Fair. Although the book fair is open to and attracts writers, scholars, and intellectuals from around the world, it saps its spirit and energy from the wellspring of Pan-Africanism: close ties and collaboration between and among Africans.

Thus, every year, the organizers choose a country from Africa which becomes “the guest country at the book fair,” and invites writers and intellectuals from that country who may well give a representative picture of the historical and cultural activity of the country.

Ghana is the 2016 guest country at the Hargeisa International Book Fair to be held in the last week of July.


Hargeisa’s fame today as a cultural hub is an echo from the past. Hargeisa is a beautiful city surrounded by hills and the capital city of the Republic of Somaliland.

The literary story of Somaliland has been muted by hypocrisy
Khainga O’Okwemba (left) and Director of Hargeysa International Book Fair Prof Jama Musse Jama in Somaliland. (PHOTO: COURTESY)

I was invited by Dr. Jama Musse Jama, the writer-intellectual, cultural activist, and founding director of Hargeisa Cultural Centre, on a reconnaissance trip ahead of the 2016 book fair, but also to the first Somali Language Literature and Linguistic Workshop organized by the Centre.

The workshop brought together distinguished scholars such as the renowned Italian linguist Prof Giorgio Banti, Dr. Martin Orwin from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Dr. Morgan Nilsson of Gothenburg University, Sweden, and Somaliland linguist Prof Mohamed H. Raabi among others.

Hargeisa sits on the banks of an expansive seasonal river. Today, there’s no single drop of water: the river is dry. A visitor to Hargeisa in the rainy season will be witness to something different: an overflowing river.

Why Hargeisa Is A Beacon Of Literary ProwessThis is a phenomenon that fires the imagination of a poet seeking answers to nature’s duality: of night and day; of the physical and the metaphysical; of rebirth; of regeneration. And that is Somaliland!

During the Berlin Conference of 1884, Somaliland fell under the British Protectorate with Hargeisa as its capital, while Somalia fell under Italy with Mogadishu as its capital city. Then there were Somalis who fell under France in what is today Djibouti, while others still were placed in Kenya and in Ethiopia.

Somaliland was the first to attain independence from Britain on 26th June 1960, becoming the Republic of Somaliland. Four days later, Italian Somalia became independent.

The originators of the dream of uniting all the fragmented five Somali-speaking regions, including those in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti under one country. Thus, the former British and Italian colonies formed a union which became the “Republic of Somali.”

That union had its intrinsic problems; the more glaring one being the seizing of power by Siyad Barre, and his blind dictatorial, corrupt, and malarial isolationist policy.

In 1991, Somaliland reclaimed its independence. The country has since brought about and maintained peace in its territory; has government structures, parliament, independent judiciary, and adopted multiparty democracy. It’s now 24 years.

Why do people still think that a former British colony and a former Italian colony can be cobbled together? A peaceful country still awaits recognition by the international community.

By Khainga O’okwemba

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