Writers Help Somalia Turn the Page to Peace

Abdilatif Ega, a renowned international author at the Mogadisihu Book Fair, signs a copy of his novel ‘Guban.’
Abdilatif Ega, a renowned international author at the Mogadisihu Book Fair, signs a copy of his novel "Guban."
Ahmed Fais
Mogadisihu Book Fair spotlights strength of the mighty pen
“The future looks brighter for Mogadishu. For years, it was synonymous with explosions, war and hostility. Today, the image is of books and people yearning to read.”

November 2016—In a city emerging from the ashes of a brutal civil war, Somalis are liberating themselves from the control of violent extremist groups.

The Mogadishu Book Fair has exposed the other side of Somalia’s capital city. The fair, held Aug. 17-19, brought together authors, poets, academics, playwrights, motivational speakers and literary scholars from across the Somali region and around the world. It showcased more than 3,000 books covering all types of literature from comedy, drama and romance to satire, tragedy and nonfiction.

During the fair, speakers and audiences brought to the forefront discussions on love, life, faith, history, heritage and hope, voicing their aspirations through poetry, books and the mighty pen.

“In this inspirational environment, beliefs and ideas were shared and discussed in a productive forum rather than fought over,” explained Mohamed “Diini” Sheik-Ali Ahmed, the founder and organizer of the event.

The fair was sponsored solely by USAID, which, through its Transition Initiatives for Stabilization Plus program, supports arts, culture and sports activities to instill a new, shared sense of Somali identity. The activities are designed to recapture the social space that has been dominated, often forcibly and violently, by al-Shabaab and other extremist organizations and ideologues.

“We are building a more peaceful, tolerant and literate Somali society through activities like this,” said Steve Olive, USAID’s deputy mission director for Kenya and East Africa.

The fair attracted 2,000 people a day, and trended on Twitter in East Africa with over 3 million impressions of #MBF2016.

This year the fair brought the likes of Abdilatif Ega from New York City, author of the novel “Guban,” which portrays Somalia from medieval times to the present day. Ega is currently writing a screenplay called “Joe the Doorman,” a novel based on a Somali painter who is a doorman by day and a painter by night, rejected by mainstream society and ill-conceived prejudices such as skin color, accent and religion.

Also brought to the stage was Somali-Canadian novelist/journalist Hassan G. Santur, author of “Something Remains” and “The Youth of God,” along with former BBC Africa correspondent, Andrew Harding, who wrote “Mayor of Mogadishu.” The latter piece is about the work and life of Mohamed “Tarzan” Nur, the former mayor of Mogadishu who served during a very difficult period from 2010 to 2013.

Sheikh Ahmed Johari and his wife Hibo Omar from the Happy Marriage Academy, who spoke about love and strength in marriage, were among the most popular guest speakers at the event, attracting record crowds.

Abubakar Mohamed, a 17-year-old Somali writer inspired by the first Mogadishu Book Fair in 2015, is now a renowned author in his country. His first book, “Tusmaal,” is a collection of short stories about migration and the parent-child relationship in the Somali context.

“The future looks brighter for Mogadishu,” he says. “For years, it was synonymous with explosions, war and hostility. Today, the image is of books and people yearning to read.”

Following the success of the book fair, USAID is planning to replicate similar activities in other regions in Somalia, including the establishment of reading clubs, book forums and libraries. USAID has supported the restoration of Somali arts and culture for five years, reaching hundreds of thousands of Somali people.

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Last updated: November 02, 2016

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