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‘Poets are more important than politicians in Somalia’: The Role of Arts and Literature in the Horn of Africa

By Harriet Staff

Somali poet Hadraawi

Check out this article in Financial Times, which begins:

There could hardly be a more poignant or devastating reminder of divisive instability that has spread throughout the Horn of Africa.

On Monday, I moderated a discussion panel on how arts and literature can help rebuild society in the Horn of Africa. But I shouldn’t have been there at all.

Yusuf Hassan, the intended moderator and a Kenyan MP of Somali descent, was absent because of a stark symbol, not of society rebuilding itself, but of society in meltdown: a bomb attack.

The parliamentarian was injured by shrapnel from an explosion in his Kamukunji constituency in Eastleigh, a largely Somali community in Nairobi, on Friday evening. A boy who had come up to greet him was killed instantly, among five who died. It was the second blast in three days.


Somalis have become accustomed to fatal tumult in more than 20 years of instability and war. A recent return to fragments of stability as the threat of al-Shabaab ebbs may not be enough.

“We have a state but we don’t have a nation,” said Ayan Mahamoud, managing director of KAYD Somali Arts and Culture, which helps put on the Hargeisa International Book Fair. She was among the panelists co-hosted by Kwani Trust, a Kenyan literary network, and the Nairobi forum, a research body managed by the Rift Valley Institute, discussing how arts and literature can help in societal reconstruction.

“Poets are more important than politicians in Somalia,” she said, pointing to audience member and poet Hadraawi, famed as the Somali Shakespeare and hailed for helping to bring down the dictatorship of Siad Barre in 1991. He was imprisoned for his popular criticism for five years in the mid-1970s and later joined the opposition in exile.

Full article here.

Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.