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Looking back at the Hargeisa International Book Fair

by Josephine Wambui, Oxfam

Jama Muse, Director of Redsea Foundation & famous Somali poet Hadrawi

The Hargeisa International Book Fair is an annual event organized and supported by the Redsea Cultural Foundation (RCF). This is the seventh year of the book fair, and I FINALLY got to attend, even if it was just for a day. Turns out, I chose the best day as it coincided with the launch of the Hargeisa Cultural Centre. It’s important to note here, that as Oxfam we have been supporting the book fair for the last 5 years, and it has been a pleasure seeing it grow both in terms of numbers and ideas.

For this great day, I was prepared. I had my Dirac as I knew I wanted to look very Somali J (well, at least to almost get away with saying, ‘I am Somali from the Diaspora’, as there are many Somalilanders home for the summer holiday). The hall at Guriga Shaqaalaha, the venue of the fair, was full, with people hanging in the doors to catch the opening remarks from different key note speakers. As luck would have it, Ayan (RCF), heard me call her and I got in with a seat right at the front!

This year’s theme was ‘imagination’ and that theme took me places. I imagine a prosperous Somaliland with youth and women working hand in hand with the rest of the community in developing the country. I imagine, generations of women (grandmothers, mothers and daughters) sitting together having conversations on how peaceful the country has been. 100 years later; I imagine, paved and lit streets of Hargeisa; themed parks and grass everywhere for children to run around freely; I imagine tourists and Somalilanders interacting on the beaches of Berbera! I imagine sitting on the high mountains of Dallo after a long trek up taking in the breathtaking view; I imagine running up the winding road to Sheik – I could go on and on about Somaliland and everything else my imagination can get into. Albert Einstein sums it up perfectly when he says “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions”. I am so looking forward to these coming attractions.

Traditional Somali dance at the Hargeisa International Book Fair

I digress….This year’s book fair, like all the others, attracted writers, poets, artists and thinkers from Somaliland and the rest over the world (Malawi being the feature country this year) to share and discuss their art and literary productions. Representatives from the Somaliland government, European Commission, and Foreign Commonwealth Office gave key note speeches congratulating the Redsea Cultural Centre and the people of Somaliland for the showcase event during the launch of the book fair.  Red Sea Cultural Centre then hosted guests for lunch at the Hargeisa Cultural Centre where we listened to brief key note words from prominent Somali poet and songwriter Hadrawi (Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame) and Dr. Edna Adan ( We then proceeded to the most interested session, Somali music and dance!

It was a beautiful day, I did get to practice my broken Somali J, I did fit in with diaspora Somali with my appearance. I looking forward to attending next year’s book fair; I look forward to attending art exhibitions, drama, film screening, poetry reading, public lectures and book launches at the centre; and I look forward to walking the road from the Oxfam Office to pour into the books at the public library.

For more information on the Hargeisa International Bookfair and Redsea Cultural Foundation, visit

And plan to attend the next Hargeisa International Book Fair!

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Written by Geno Teofilo

Geno is media officer for Oxfam Novib on Somalia. He is based in Nairobi

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