Yusuf Serunkuma moderates Chuma Nwokolo, Okey Ndibe, Dr Mpalive Msiska and Prof Niyi Osundare

Hargeysa International Book Fair 2015: Day 3 thrills and spills

The action in the hottest literary festival happening right now continued in the biggest city in Somaliland on Monday. We had been enjoying the rich literary offering and world-class friendliness of the people of Hargeisa and it didn’t look like it was changing any time in the near future.

There were many panels that we could attend as delegates in the two festival languages; English and Somali. As already mentioned in this blog, my Somali is nonexistent so I had to make do with the English ones missing on some of the better ones. The First Lady of the country Amina Mahamud Jirde, for instance, gave a wonderful address in the morning to the delegates. Even with the summary from the moderator for the English speakers, I am sure much was lost in translation.

The English panels that I attended were illuminating. One of these featured Kenyan poet Phyllis Muthoni and Malawi academic Dr Mpalive Msiska and it was chaired by Somaliland’s Bharkad M. Keriyo. The panelists read poems. Prof Msiska read a poem Malawi from his poetry collection Tropics which he dedicated to Vera Chirwa one of his native country’s well-known political prisoners from the early 1990s. This poem reminds me a bit of the legendary I Am An African by former South African president Thabo Mbeki with a focus on Malawi. Muthoni read a raft of poems the one which most touched something in the audience speaking about how she had been coming to their nation for the last seven years.

Discussions after the readings were focused on poetry and how and what it means and does and and and.

As mentioned before, the focus country for this year is Nigeria and one panel showed this in its entirety. The panel was moderated by Rashid Garuf and featured Prof Niyi Osundare, Okey Ndibe, and Chuma Nwokolo. They spoke about the challenges facing Nigeria with a focus on its literature. I have to confess that this was the most enriching panel that I have attended at this festival. I suspect that the audience had the same feeling as the chair had to keep cutting off people would stand to allegedly ask a question and then go talking on and on… human beings really love the sounds of their voices.

Also in the Nigeria space was the “Meet the Author” which featured Okey Ndibe, writer of Arrow of Rain and Foreign Gods Inc, moderated by Maimouna Jallow. Ndibe, who is an engaging storyteller, spoke on many topics ranging from his work and the writing craft, to the experience of living in the US as a minority to the experience of being arrested by the Nigerian government whenever he arrived back home. I enjoyed that session immensely.

There were a few mixed language sessions, Somali and English going back and forth, of interest as well that included panels with Nadifa Mohamed and Hannah Pool. Mohamed is the writer of Black Mamba Boy and The Orchard of Lost Souls (my review) while Pool is the Eritrean-born writer of My Father’s Daughter (my review). They gave the assembled audiences their different literary journeys to the publication of their work and the reaction of the world to it.

Later, I joined fellow guests of the festival to check ancient rock art out of the city at Laas Geel as well as a dinner at one of the best restaurants in town. If the festival were to end today I would already have got more than I bargained for when I left Nairobi on Saturday morning. Anything else will be a bonus at this point.


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