Using art to demand accountability from leaders

The 2010 Hargeysa International Book Fair (HIBF) and Mooge Festival took place from the 23rd to the 27th of July in Hargeysa, on the theme of ‘citizenship’. Whilst the festival aimed to celebrate creativity and discuss the important role that art can play within society, it also explored how individuals become part of a nation through respecting laws, promoting rights and upholding civic duties.

During the weeklong festival, various renowned Somali scholars and artists shared ideas and explored issues related to nationhood and political identity in the Somali society, particularly the role that art and culture play in nation building. This was mainly through book presentations, poem recitations, panel discussions, lyrics performances and other forms of art.

The show stopper was a play scripted and directed by playwright Abdirahman Yusuf Arten.  ‘We Can Create a Life’ explored civic responsibility and political leadership.  The play addresses the total neglect of duty and the abuse of power by political leaders. The story gets interesting when the community decide to reorganise themselves and elect a female shop owner as their new councillor. Arten addresses very complex issues such as accountability and legitimacy, paying particular attention to social and economic disparity.

Arten studied theatre and is a gifted director and dramatist. He has involved in the dramatic arts for over two decades and has produced many plays in London and in his native Somaliland. His other popular are Baqayo Roged (Somersault) and Rajo (Orphan). 

The two plays explore some of the deep-rooted inequalities in certain aspects of Somali tradition, particularly the problems of marginalised social groups. The plays address inequality with enthusiasm for solutions and create a sense hope, paying particular attention to social and economic disparity. Issues of inequality are not only a defining characteristic in his productions but also inherent in his character. Apart from theatre, Abdirahman’s is also involved in literature and politics.

Mahamed Ibarahim Warsame (Hadraawi), regarded by many as the "greatest living Somali poet" opened the festival. Dr. Hussein Bulhan, Hargeisa University Chancellor, Prof. Saleebaan Axmed Guuleed from the diaspora and Cabdiraxmaan Aw-xasan Macallin “Baas”, Chairman of Unugga Waddaniyada Organization in Somaliland among others delivered lectures.

Visitors had a chance to explore books available during the book fair and participate in discussion panels. Books were also available for college students and for public libraries. AfrikaNation, an NGO based in Hargeysa which seeks to empower African artists and their communities to change society through art displayed paintings and other art work. In addition, novelist Nadifa Mohamed, the feature guest at the festival, discussed her debut novel, ‘Black Mamba Boy,’ which appeared on long-list for the Orange Prize in fiction 2010. Black Mamba Boy is biographical of Jama.

In 1935 Jama is 10, growing up in the slums of the ancient city of Aden. His earliest lessons have been in love and survival — the passionate love of his mother, as she tries to strengthen him to life on the streets. When he loses everything in Aden, his only chance of survival lies in finding his father, who disappeared years before. But between him and his father lies a dangerous, lonely expanse and just ahead is the war that will test the world to its limits. So begins an epic journey by foot that will take Jama through war-torn Eritrea and Sudan, to Egypt, Palestine and finally to the icy realms of Britain that he’d heard about in Aden.

Presentations and plays were staged by Somaliland Culture and Sports Association (SOCSA), Murtimaal, Negaad Women Umbrella, Somaliland National Youth Organization (SONYO), The Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Committee (HAVOYOCO), Unugga Wadaniyada Somaliland (Somaliland Nationalism Cell) and readers’ clubs from across Somaliland.

The event was organised by the Cultural Foundation and its partners KAYD Somali Arts and Culture. UNDP supported the production of the play.

This was the second year of the event in Hargeysa.

*The festival is named “Mooge Festival” after the celebrated and influential Somali musician Mohamed Mooge. It incorporates the Hargeysa International Book Fair (HIBF).