This week sees the fifth year of the Somali Week Festival in London, organised by the Kayd Somali Arts and Culture organisation. The British Office for Somalia is a proud sponsor of this event, which brings together poets, writers and musicians from across Somalia to perform in the UK. This year’s artists and performers include Mohamed Haashi Dhama ‘Gaarriye’, Abdinasir Ma’alin Aydid, Dr Georgi Kapchits, Amin Amir, Saado Abdi Amarre, Ahmed Shiekh Jama, Jama Kadiye and many more.
The theme of this year’s Festival is translation. Translating the world’s literary treasures is vital for everyone to learn about other cultures and ideas. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of Somali works translated into English, and vice versa. Among this year’s translations by Redsea-online are Animal Farm by George Orwell, and a selection of short stories by Anton Chekhov. A team of translators are also rendering the work of a number of Somali poets into English.
You might be wondering why an organisation like the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is supporting a cultural event like this. The answer is that diplomacy is always embedded in a cultural context. It is impossible to be a fully effective diplomat unless you are engaged in culture and the arts. Equally well, it is very difficult to make peace where there is no music, theatre and books. Because it is often the poets and singers and writers of this world who we rely on to remind us of our common humanity, which transcends political or tribal or historical divisions.
Often where the political environment is very highly charged, like it is in Somalia, it becomes very hard to have an open debate around issues like conflict, security, and terrorism. But by relating to fictional events and stories about the way people live their lives, it is possible to access experiences that are common to us all, regardless of clan or creed. And this is why literature plays such an important role in helping to make sense of very complex and difficult political situations in ways that everyone can understand and relate to, and which ultimately brings people closer together.