Eventhough several book fairs were previously independently organised in Garowe by various groups such as SCANSOM Publishers, Puntland Women Writers Association, East Africa University and the Garowe Library, the recent 3-day Garowe International Book Fair held between the 28th and the 30th of July 2016 was the first of its kind, in terms of scale and scope, to be successfully held in Garowe.
How best can one quantify value and benefit?
Using the hashtag #GIBF2016 and #GIBF as well as #GaroweBookFair Social Media lovers in and outside of Somalia took to the internet by storm and soon made the hashtag #GIBF2016 trending. 100s of fans and followers joined the GIBF Facebook Page and the GIBF Twitter account and left very positive comments.
Preparations started last year. A GIBF taskforce was put together and has been meeting regularly since then. A number of documentary videos in which the President also to be seen and talking about the Book Fair has been repeatedly broadcast on various television and radio stations. Months earlier, massive billboards carrying GIBF logo and messages were erected all over Garowe town, especially in public places such as tea houses, the market place and even around the mosques. The billboards were also placed by the venue- the entrance of the main Conference Hall of East Africa University Garowe Campus where the magic of GIBF unraveled. The Hall can take up to 1000 people at one time. 100s of chairs and large tables were set up in the huge hall area crammed up with unique brands of children’s and young adult books in Somali language as well as in English and in Arabic.
Before the Book Fair commenced SIDRA Institute as the host organisation organised a welcome lunch for all the invited Authors.
The UK Embassy in Somalia as well as other embassies and even Book Fair organizers in the region such as Hargeysa Book Fair (HIBF) and Mogadishu Book Fair (MIBF) liked and/or re-tweeted, shared and even congratulated the two organizers The Somali Institute for Development and Research Analysis (SIDRA) and SCANSOM Publishers as well as the Somalis in Puntland.
Over 700 people visited the first day of #GIBF. The President of Puntland State of Somalia officially opened the session and also gave a long speech about the importance of the Book Fair and how it could contribute to peace and stability in the region. He praised all the authors and encouraged more writers to participate in the next GIBF.
Both International and local renowned artists and authors attended the event which begun on a Thursday, making it possible for many people to attend as it is then a weekend in Somalia. Authors such as Professor Lidwien /Ladan Kapteijns from Boston, Dr. George Kapchits from Moscow, Dr Mohamed Dahir Afrah from Mogadishu, Mr Ahmed Farah Ali Idaajaa from Nairobi, Somali teacher Mrs Zainab Dahir of Galool from London, Dr. Ubah Christina Ali Farah from Brussels and Mr Mohamoud Dirios from Colombus Ohio, to mention but a few, traveled from afar sometimes even for several days in order to attend the GIBF spectacular.
I didn’t know that we we had this many writers in Puntland.
In total some 46 authors from all over Somalia presented their books and creatively spoke about their passion for writing during the panels at the event which lasted 3 full days. More than 20 Authors came from all the regions in Puntland.
The youngest female writer at GIBF was 12-year old Author Nasteeho Mohamed from Galkayo and the youngest male 16-year old Mr Abuukar Duceeysane from Borama who has published some 9 books himself. Volunteers and Facilitators ensured that the young writers were well connected online and encouraged and sometimes even trained them to create public pages on Facebook so as to have more followers. It was a well-though out event and a well prepared Book Fair, I heard many say about GIBF while others directly approached me to tell me the same. Each time a smile appeared on my face.
The Garowe International Book Fair has the potential to play a key role in encouraging a culture and habit of reading and writing among people of all age groups in Puntland and indeed all over Somalia.
100s of books were displayed each day, the stalls manned by volunteers and indeed 100s of guests purchased the books in big numbers and took pictures as they did so.
Books brought all these people together. Books connected the people at GIBF. Books, had many Somalis talking for days about issues much more interesting than qabiil and politics. That is what knowledge does- it shines light in the darkness.
The President of Puntland, who himself has some 42 publications to his name, was the first to announce the purchase of close to 600 books from the Book Fair for his government employees. Young people in particular bought books in big numbers. Also on display were beautiful and well-framed Somali art posters and exhibitions of arts and crafts both traditional and modern.
It was my first time to see a Barbie doll all dressed up in Somali traditional clothing called Alhindi.
There were over 40 lectures and some 7 Keynote speeches throughout the 3 days keenly awaited by students, teachers, scholars, authors, intellectuals, librarians and book lovers of all kinds. There was also much enthusiasm and every lecture was well attended sometimes over-attended, forcing people to get extra chairs or sit on the floor.
The love for books, for stories and for knowledge is great in Puntland. Apparently.
Most of the books displayed related to Somali social ethos and tradition and are suitable for children and other youngsters of impressionable age.
We also observed the rapid pace of technological advances during the GIBF. The facilitators constantly reminded the audience to tweet about the event and they regularly asked guests to take pictures and videos of the ongoing sessions and to put them on social media for the world to see and be captivated by.
For the world to see, hear, feel, and be witness to magic unfold in Garowe.
The use of technology and of social media has altered the reading culture of students and other readers in Puntland in a positive way. This new found love for books in Puntland has contributed to the emergence of new avenues that have enhanced the popularity of printed publications in Puntland.
More books are being read than before. My relatives living with me each has a book now. Including my 80-year uncle. To cater to this new class of readers, the organizers have made all books available even after the Book Fair. A children;s library is being set up in Garowe.
Others are contemplating putting together book clubs and readers’ forums to ignite debates and discussion during book review sessions.
A few days after the end of GIBF a young Somali Author presented his book about street/homeless/vulnerable children at PSU in Garowe. SCANSOM Publishers will not be taking back their 100s of books to Sweden where the firm is based. Instead it will be opening a public book shop and a public library soon in Garowe and some other villages.
The future is bright for Somalia. The future is books.
Contrary to common believe, Somali women writers were equally well represented at the Garowe International Book Fair. Members from the Puntland Women Writers Association such as Mrs Asha Gelle, Mrs Fatima Jibrell, Mrs Asli Ahmed Mohamoud also presented their books and gave long interesting lectures. Other Somali women visiting Authors were there such as Ms Dayax Ahmed Mohamed from Hargeysa and Dr. Hamda Warsame from Bosaaso, I myself was also there to be part of this history in the making, Mrs Nasra Abdirahman Salad and Fadumo Mohamed Haji Hoosh were also present to let their voices be heard through their writing.
A Twitter user, apparently surprised by the big number of women in the audience and occupying the front seat, tweeted “Women in the front seat, men in the back seat! Unique picture in
#Somalia during #GIBF2016 | Pic via @GaroweBookFair” about this very interesting picture.
The future is bright for Somalia. The future is the frontseat occupiers!
Throughout the 3 days, a number of superb collections of titles and visual presentations strongly attracted the attention of all eyes. The encouragement the organizers received has impelled them to go for better polished and wider spaces to facilitate for visitors an unobstructed view of books from the closest possible quarters in the coming years. It is good when the work you do is not only meaningful but also recognized and publicly valued by others. The organizers and volunteers felt honored by the graceful presence of these compliment givers.
It is also worthy mentioning that the Garowe International Book Fair was entirely locally funded. Not a single International NGO contributed financially or technically to the 3-day event. Local commercial banks and private business companies dug deep into their pockets and accounts and contributed significantly to the success of GIBF. The government of Puntland also financially supported the Book Fair.
All donors were given some space where they could put on majestic display their standing banners and other company products and were given certificates of appreciation by the President himself on the first day.
But there is also room for improvement.
In Puntland, the phenomenon of a book fair hay have begun to take hold, but it is still only concentrated among a minority of institutions and not all regions benefited from the its magic. Universities, schools and the government have to provide space, even if only for a day for a book event and promote it among students and parents in other regions, especially in the rural areas.
Also, unfortunately there were no activities for kids. It is important to set aside creative ways of involving and engaging children in book fairs and this can be done through art lessons, reading/storytelling and writing competitions. The Book Fair becomes more joyous when it has materials that children can relate to and make the connections to in their daily life activities – the things they see, they eat and the people they relate to.
But very few books were available on electronic reading platforms (e-readers) such as Amazon, Kindle, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Android, ibookstore, iPad, iPod, etc. I guess that will be the next step for book lovers in Puntland.
And where are the writers from minority backgrounds? From the far away IDPs camps? Writers living with disability and who could not travel easily to the far away venue.
There is much that GIBF has uncovered and indeed much to reflect on and learn from.
The 3-day event was ceremoniously closed by the Vice President of Puntland who awarded the more than 20 volunteers gold framed certificates of appreciation for their tireless efforts having worked selflessly day and night in making GIBF the success that it was.
A festive farewell dinner party was also organised for all guests of GIBF.
I’d never have known about all these intriguing writers and their stories if it hadn’t been for GIBF. I’ve been living in Puntland since 2008 and I can say with all certainty that one of the major highlights of my time here is the Garowe International Book Fair.
Its all gone. But memories remain.
I miss its magic and its splendor.