A week-long international book fair that attracted writers from Africa, Europe and North America has just wound up in Somaliland, an arid and sparsely populated statelet on the Horn of Africa that has struggled unsuccessfully to gain world recognition since declaring independence in 1991.
It was the seventh book fair to be held in the capital, Hargeisa, a bustling if tumbledown city where locals compete for space on dusty roads with armies of itinerant goats. Hay-on-Wye it isn’t. However, in a region better known for piracy and Islamist terrorism, the country has remained relatively stable since it broke away from its dysfunctional neighbour, Somalia, following a civil war. What the city lacks in book fair chic was more than made up for by the enthusiasm of the hundreds who crammed the venue for daily discussions and readings. The literacy rate has risen from one-in-five to one-in-two since independence.
The fair showcased local writers – the country has a strong poetic tradition – and those from the diaspora, such as South Africa-based Nuruddin Farah, a regular nominee for the Nobel Prize for literature, and Londoner Nadifa Mohamed, 32, whose second novel, The Orchard of Lost Souls, came out last year.