Second book festival to open in Mogadishu, founder says 2015 fair inspired new writers

For the second year running, the Mogadishu Book Fair, renamed and re-branded is back (August 17-19). The inaugural 2015 Book Fair has inspired young writers while reading clubs are gradually emerging in Mogadishu. Former BBC Africa correspondent  Andrew Harding will be launching his book, The Mayor of Mogadishu. Goobjoog News Editor had a review with Mohamed Dini, the director of New Horizon which founded the Book Fair.

Goobjoog News (GN): We are gearing up for the second Mogadishu Book Fair, what’s in for book lovers this year?

One major change, last year we were Mogadishu International Book Fair but this year we’ve dropped international to remain with MBF and we will be so forever. We are bringing in authors, scholars and professors from all over the world, Somalia and the larger East Africa. We have one none Somalia guest this year; his name is Andrew Harding. He is the ex BBC Africa correspondent and he took a break from his job last year to write a book called The Mayor of Mogadishu and that’s going to be launched at this year’s book fair.

GN: Is there an increase in the number of books on display this year?

Last year we had about 2000 to 2500. We hope to have around 3000 this year. It may not be more by much. We are taking baby steps, we really want take our time and grow to become bigger and bigger.

GN: What informed the renaming of the Book Fair?

We wanted it to match our website and twitter account name. And also the word international is used for so many things in Somalia. We wanted to simplify. It does not add so much value. A big part of it is giving it a Somali, Mogadishu local identity. We do want to invite international authors and guests every year but they are not the first priority. The first priority is that this is Mogadishu book fair; the Somali literature and culture is the heart of it. That is the identity and all our guests from all over the world will come knowing that this is the premier Mogadishu book festival.

GN: One of the objectives you outlined last year is to promote a reading culture in Somalia. Looking back, are we seeing some movements in that direction?

With much confidence I can say we are seeing changes since August 2015. For one there are a few reading clubs in Mogadishu. Some of them existed before, perhaps they needed some push. We see the Mogadishu readers book club doing things left and right, we see Ifiye Cultural Centre right here across the street, I am very proud of their work.

One gentleman who attended last year’s book fair was inspired to set up Mogadishu’s premier book store. We have three authors coming to this year’s book fair who were also inspired entirely by attending the 2015 book Fair. One is a young girl 17 years old, another young man who is a university student and the other a 40 year who has written about love and family. All inspired by Mogadishu Book Fair.

Some of the books on display during the 2015 Mogadishu Book Fair. Over 3000 books will be on display this year including one penned by former BBC African correspondent Andrew Harding. Photo: Goobjoog News

We’ve established a flag ship sister programme to the Book Fair at New Horizon. It goes by the hashtag MGQ Book Forum. It is a bi-monthly two hour session. We invite one author an hour of book presentation, an hour of Q&A and 30 minutes for snacks. We have done four sessions for far but we have stopped because of the Book Fair and we will resume in October. We also do pride ourselves of being the torch which lit the Garowe International Book Fair.

GN: The Book Fair is inspiring particularly young writers. Are you considering supporting them for instance through crowd-sourcing publishing since you have established writers on board the Book Fair?

We are interested in establishing a writer’s award for young people. We are in the process of doing so. We would like as Mogadishu Book Fair/New Horizon to do a prestigious competition among young writers, publish a couple of books for the top three. That’s in the works. We do not intend to start publishing houses but we would like to help some bookstores here to establish publishing houses. We have asked them to join together and establish one prestigious publishing house. We would like the awards to be part of next year’s book fair. We will announce the winners at the Books Fair and publish the books thereafter.

GN: One of your followers on Twitter had this to say; Too many book gatherings, does it mean Somalis are reading? What is your take on this?

If people are gathering for books that means there’s an interest in books. It does show that everyone who comes to such gathering is indeed interested in hearing about books; they may not be writers, they may not be readers.

But the mere fact that we can assemble that many people at a book event is a very positive sign of Somalia heading towards a reading direction. The reading and writing, the books, the Ifiye Cultural Centre and the library here, writers like Bahja.  That shows us that the level of reading and writing has increased.

Book lovers and enthusiasts sample their favourites during the 2015 Mogadishu Book Fair. The Fair has inspired young writers among them those who attended the Fair. 17 year old Bahja Ali will be one of the guest authors inspired by the Book Fair to write a motivational book. Photo: Goobjoog News

GN: Finally, are you getting government support on this; is the government embracing this idea?

We are in close touch with the ministry of information and the Ministry of Information and Culture. In particular we are very close in organising this event with the National Academy for Arts and Sciences and all these reading clubs and youth associations and universities. The Book Fair is such a neutral thing; it gathers so many people and so many entities that would otherwise have not worked together. We have support from various sectors of government.

Just like last year, the President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud will be closing this year’s book fair as well. We’ll have one to one conversation just like last year about his favourite reads, his books, what he is reading, what he wants to write, life as a husband, as father, an avid reader and a former academic. It should be very exciting.


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