Somaliland: Protesters Mute Music Fest
It was not until the last minute when the conference-hall was set for the event, as well as the local invitees, key-note speakers, folklore dancers, government officials, journalists, and foreign guests were soon to arrive there that the students unleashed a wave of protest. They violently emptied the conference-hall of all the chairs and tables for the invitees, and they removed from the walls all the slogans, pictures, and decorations for the event.
Inspired by local Wahabi clerics, who had been preaching in advance against this event in their daily sermons in the mosques in the town, these students justified their acts of rejection and obstruction on the grounds that the music was un-Islamic.
The event was apparently supposed to have been part of the Somaliland authorities' relentless campaign for international recognition. It was the first time in the history of their yet internationally unrecognised country, Somaliland’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism had organised a celebration for the World Music Day in the capital Hargeisa. By locally promoting and celebrating the international events, the Somaliland authorities wanted to show that the country is governed from democratically established institutions. The zone of Somaliland generally is considered more peaceful than the rest of Somalia.
However, local Wahabi clerics have strongly challenged their campaign by proving on their part that they also govern the county from the platforms of the mosques. 'Community censorship' of music is not only limited to the conflict parts of Somalia.
Local papers in the Somaliland dared to at least write about the incident, while it appeared as if the local stringers of the international media intentionally muted it.
Somaliland has an estimated population of between two and three million people. (UN OCHA Somalia, March 2006). It declared independence from Somalia in 1991, though it has not yet been recognised internationally. But, it has since enjoyed a relative peace and sort of governance, which has spared her from falling into the same deep quake-mire of civil war and state of anarchism that has engulfed the rest of the troubled Somalia.
“We are against all that goes against our culture and religion,” says Mohamed Ismail Farah, one of the protesters. “We prefer to die for it instead of allowing World Music Day in our university, because we are against music,” says Mohamed Mohamud Rage, another student of the university. (Hiraanonline/Ogaal newspaper, Hargeisa, 22 June 2008).
As the drama unfolded in an unexpected way, the government began to mass up hundreds of its police force around the university with the intention to easily disperse the protesters, but the students declined to reverse their previous decision. Indeed, they showed strong resolve that they were even prepared to engage in a bloody confrontation with the police.
At this stage, in order to avoid possible confrontation, the government relocated the event to Hargeisa Club hotel, and withdrew its police from the university.
No sooner had the police left the university than the students victoriously gathered in the same conference-hall of the university, where they first prayed in congregation, and then organised straight away a religious event, attended by local clerics of the town.
In their sermons, the clerics whole-heartedly praised the students for their action to reject and obstruct the World Music Day in their university. They thoroughly preached to them about the evils of music and why Islam forbade its practice in the Muslim societies. Also, they categorically criticised what they termed as their government’s misconduct of publicly promoting music and music-related events, which they described as “un-Islamic.”
World Music Day has been a hot topic in all the sermons of the Islamic clerics in the mosques in Hargeisa in the days after this incident, labelling it as un-Islamic culture, out-sourced and promoted by “infidels”, with intent to deviate Muslim societies from their noble religion. (Jamhuriya, daily newspaper, Hargeisa, 22 June 2008).
The University of Hargeisa was first inaugurated in the year of 2000 with the faculties of education and business administration. To date, according to its official website, the university now has more faculties with over 2,600 students in its various schools.
The people of Somaliland are undisputedly credited by all Somalis for their invaluable contributions to the early formative stages of the contemporary Somali art forms by transforming the traditional folklore dance into the modern type of song sung with musical instruments.
Indeed, Somaliland produced the founder of the modern Somali theatre, Xussein Aw-Farah, as well as the father of the beautiful and modern music, Abdulahi Qarshe. The story of Tobanka inan ee tiriigga shita, the “ten guys who light the lantern,” ten-member group of young men, who contributed a lot to the formative years of Somali music during the 40th, are still locked in the minds of all Somalis. It was mainly because of this group that Hargeisa has since then become famed as hoyga fanka, the “home of arts.”
The recent negative reaction of the students of the University of Hargeisa to the World Music Day is a clear indication underscoring the ferocity of the prevailing community censorship on music in the Somali-speaking Horn of Africa in general; the very same community that once used to promote music and music-related activities, and complained of the heavy-handedly music censorship of Somalia’s former military regime, is now paradoxically censoring by itself, and criticising its government for not prohibiting music and music-related events.
Moreover, this incident in Somaliland proves that the current pervasive community censorship on music in the Somali-speaking Horn of Africa is not only the consequences of the political and security instability in the region but, to a bigger degree, it is about perceptions resulting from a long-time preaching to these communities against their music by Somali Wahabi groups in the region.