Language use of Somalis in Dollo Ado refugee camps: a sociolinguistic study of communication.

Tirsit Yetbarek is a PhD student in Sociolinguistics Studies at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. Her study focuses on the language use of Somalis with special interest to the dialect variation and the community’s preference for use of the different dialects in different domains of communications. She has a double master in Journalism and Communications from Addis Ababa University School of Journalism and Masters in Peace and Security Studies from Institute of Peace and Security Studies in Addis Ababa University. Currently she serving as head of the School of Postgraduate Studies at Admas University Hargeisa.


Language is a structured system of arbitrary symbols which is usually vo-   cal.  It is through this system that we interact and collaborate with others; in fact, a human group literally cannot cooperate in most circumstances without a common language. Generally, language has two functions: communicative and symbolic. While the communicative function facilitates the flow of information within a speech community, and the symbolic function signifies the identity, preference and cultural aspects of a community; it defines, identifies and describes society in-depth (Simpson, 2008: p. 18). One important function of language is what Sapir has called a ‘communicative function’ (Sapir, 1921:  p.   7)  (Sapir, 1921:  7).   Sapir further explains language as ‘the key to the heart of a people’. In this regard Moulton (1974) defines language as a wonderful and rich vehicle of communication, that is, expression of ideas, wishes and commands, conveyance of truths and lies, etc.  He states that only human beings have that attribute of sending and receiving an unlimited number of messages. That is why the combination of the two helps to describe a community in depth, through     its language use and its marks of identity contained in the language. That means cultural differences are inextricably bound up with language.

The interaction gets more interesting bearing in mind the fact that linguistic variation appears on several levels. Even within common language groups, differences may be found on national, provincial and local levels,   and these differences are manifested through dialectal differences. Dialect, sociolect and idiolect are among the mirroring realities which create different types of language use in various domains. This is the situation in which we find Somali society, which is assumed to be monolingual but has significant variation mainly on a dialect basis. Dialectal variation creates a situation where members may rank and choose among the dialects For a Common Communication Channel in Any Given Context.

Accordingly, the factors initiating the inclination to use one or another variety in a certain domain are diverse but can be explained by a cost-benefit analysis of the individuals in that interaction. Therefore, investigating language use in a particular society will significantly help to understand, define and inform socially significant policy directions regarding the language situation in any language community in general and in Somali language speaking communities in this particular case. It will also help to explain how significant dialectal variation could be a point of reference for in-group and out-group membership, which is usually the case in a general language variation domain but which might present a different outlook in the context of  a presumed monolingual society.

It is with this base that the present author proposed a sociolinguistic study of Somali language, focusing on language use of community members based on dialect variation and its effect on choice for different domains.

Based on my observations and primary data obtained from the official sources, I have selected families with active interaction in the different camp environments along with the criterion of their being a family with parents who are from different dialect speaking groups.  I used a snowballing sampling system with the assistance of the Refugee Central Committee members in each camp. Therefore, in my stay at the refugee camp, I have been observing, recording and doing interviews with those selected informants from whom I have recorded twenty eight interviews.  Based on this, I have managed to   find out that the main naming for all the dialects is Af-Soomaali vs. Rahanweyn, which indirectly refers back to Maxatiri vs AF-MAAY, these are the umbrella terms used for the dialect domains. However, it is also understood from further investigation that the Af-Soomaali which indicates the ‘proper Somali dialect’ connotation includes the Northern and the Benaadiri Somali Varieties. While the  Rahanweyn varieties are the major varieties of Central Somalia along with those of Af- Ashraaf, Af-Gelede (Belede,) Garre, Jiidu and Dubo.  All in all, the existence of various varieties is proved to be the case in the community. These varieties are the less dominant ones in certain domains

The dialect labelled ‘Af-Soomaali’, which indirectly refers to the northern dialects is dominant in function since it is used in almost all domains. It is especially demanded and highly encouraged in the official or formal domains.

The notion of ‘failed state’

The notion of ‘failed state’ and the implicit universalism of state building efforts by exploring how public services continues to be provided

Tobias Gandrup, a PhD candidate in Development Studies from the Institute of Development Policy and Management at University of Antwerp in Belgium. He is a Danish citizen and his educational background includes an MA in International Development Studies and Global Studies from Roskilde University, Denmark. His MA thesis focused on the political history of Hargeysa Egal International Airport and its role in state formation processes in Somaliland. I conducted two months of fieldwork in Hargeysa as part of the research.


‘Failed states’ are characterized by a vacuum of authority and as areas where public services are no longer delivered. However, evidence from the Republic of Somaliland challenges these ideas and illustrates that although the area has been affected by economic instability and conflicts, public services are still provided albeit by a variety of state and non-state actors. This PhD project challenges the notion of ‘failed state’ and the implicit universalism of state building efforts by exploring how public services continues to be provided in a context where the state has limited control and outreach. This will be done through the ‘hybrid governance’ perspective. The ‘hybrid governance’ literature demonstrates that not only state actors but also non-state actors are involved in the field of providing governance in a certain area. However, whereas the literature on ‘hybrid governance’ acknowledges that a variety of actors are involved in governance, it has neglected – or overseen – the ongoing interactions between these different actors. By studying interaction around the delivery of primary education, one of the most important state services, this PhD project aims at filling these gaps. Moreover, while this research takes theoretical point of departure in the hybrid governance literature, it seeks to challenge this notion and empirically investigates to what extent the notion of ‘hybridity’ is important ‘locally’.

More concretely, the research is interested in three overall themes: i) the emergence of an education sector in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Barre administration, ii) the different ways in which education delivery is organized today, and iii) the negotiations and reactions on government policies and interventions by non-state actors. This allows me to unfold how the ongoing interactions between various actors in the field of primary education delivery shape and reshape modes of (hybrid) governance in Somaliland. Extensive qualitative field research in Somaliland will ensure primary access to how people organize public and collective services.


In the presentation, the theoretical crux and the methodology of the research PhD project were shortly be presented. More importantly, he presented some of the preliminary findings from Hargeysa and tested a few arguments that the researcher is currently constructing. The research is a work in progress whereby he so far conducted three out of twelve months of fieldwork (in Hargeysa)

Diaspora politics in Somalia 1979-2016’

Claire Elder who is currently a doctoral candidate in Politics at the University of Oxford was our eye opener for the unique forum. A second-year student, Elder is currently in the initial stages of research, her thesis is entitled ‘Diaspora politics in Somalia 1979-2016’, covering the effects diaspora returnees had on politics and political institutions respectively. Prior to this she has worked for the International Crisis Group and the US Institute for Peace, and as an independent consultant in the region. She first came to Somaliland in 2013, and has come frequently since then.


Politics in Somaliland has developed for the last two and half decades, this will focus on, what role does diaspora has in Somaliland politics in that time? Diaspora returnees have influenced or taking a major role in the last four governments, whether the executive branch or legislative, they influence government policies, both internal and external. Some of them are transformative while others are non-transformative so, if they are productive what did they contribute? And if they are not why did they fail to contribute? Some people argue they are transformative in these areas:

  • Democratization
  • New policies towards development
  • Seeking international recognition
  • Trade and foreign investments
  • Local business investments

The audience asked Claire some awfully interested questions while displaying interesting ways in which, to look at diaspora politics, a few below.

How have Somaliland’s four sitting governments engaged with diaspora politicians? What the definition of diaspora in the context of Somaliland, and are people who return from across Africa and Asia considered diaspora? A point was also raised about the disparity between first and second-generation diaspora experience, and how this effects involvement in politics.

It might be fascinating to look at one particular branch of government over a period of time and a few different types of diaspora returnees (first, second generation, European, African and Arabian) and the ways they have impacted or not impacted that particular institution.


Another really interesting point was raised about the reasons for such high interest in politics among diaspora, perhaps being link to the lack of financial institutions and therefore the inability to raise initial funds so, being politically active opens doors for investment and creates legitimacy.

An audience member noted diaspora in policy making tend to be more outward facing mainly focusing on international recognitions, external trade links and foreign investment; and less on rural infrastructure and urban planning.

PhD Days at Hargeysa Cultural Center

PhD Days at Hargeisa Cultural Center

Academic dialogue in Hargeisa is the first academic dialog forum in Hargeisa Somaliland. It aims to assist in the production of knowledge in the field of Somali studies, also to act as a network for student and scholars during fieldwork in Hargeisa. Similarly, ADIH aims to help scholars gain a better, more nuanced understanding of Somaliland as a subject of study whilst exposing students to a wealth of locally produced knowledge.

The idea of the “PhD Days at HCC” on Somali related academic studies is also to prepare the ground for the 40th anniversary of the Somali Studies International Congress which, is due to take place in Hargeisa in July 2018. The congress builds up on blocks of academic disciplines consolidated through sectorial meetings based on research area that includes but not limited to;

  • linguistics and literature
  • Anthropology & History
  • Political & development areas 4) Migration & Diaspora
  • Indigenous knowledge and knowledge production
  • other social science and religion;
  • Science and new technology

The forum is also aiming at creating a profiled publication of series of research area summaries by compiling each seminar or single scholar meeting and produce a report and “Notes” towards 2018 Somali studies Congress. The Seminars take place fortnightly on Wednesdays, starting at 7:45pm with a short introduction of the presenting PhD student followed by presentation that lasts approximately 30 minutes which opens up the round table discussion. The structure of the forum dominates the experience sharing, suggestions and concrete constructive critics with inputs to the presenter.

The attendants of this forum are mainly PhD students as it aims to make a strong link among them in a way of informing “who” is working on “what area”, but the forum also has a space for local and international undergraduate students who are in strong aspiration to follow the academic path.  Beyond this, the mailing list also includes internationally renowned scholars who have been and still are working on Somali/Somaliland issues in all domains of academics who also take part in presenting their published works which sums up the overall objective of the forum as it connects, provide open stage for concrete discussion and shoes the end tunnel with such finished and published works as a motivating input.


Wednesdays’ evening is taken in Hargeisa!

 ADIH coordinator Hargeisa Cultural Center

        By Tirsit Yetbarek

Wednesdays’ evening is taken in Hargeisa! It is a day reserved for Academic Dialog In Hargeisa (ADIH) event at Hargeisa Cultural Center. The event aims to assist in the production of knowledge in the field of Somali studies, also to act as a network for student and scholars during fieldwork in Hargeisa. Similarly, ADIH aims to help scholars gain a better, more nuanced understanding of Somaliland as a subject of study whilst exposing students to a wealth of locally produced knowledge. The idea of the “PhD Days at HCC” on Somali related issues is also to prepare people for the 40th anniversary of the Somali Studies International Congress which, is due to take place in Hargeisa in July 2018.  So far, we have had 16 PhD level presentations in wide range of areas ranging from politics, economics, linguistics to natural resource utilization by scholars and PhD students who came from universities in different corners of the world.

The event has a special arrangement of presentation where by discussion rather than a hot spot questioning is used on a moon light open space with in the Hargeisa Cultural Center that has an inspiring environment. Participants take ownership in receiving information, sharing their thoughts in a constructive suggestive manner and assist each other in gaining new perspectives that helps at the end to come to common ground with each presentation issues. Only one rule applies here “introduce yourself before you provide your comments “which is aimed at connecting and advancing the bond of knowing each other for more relaxed communication.

Our last three presentations also evolved with similar tone but even got a wider reception owing it to the fact that they were part of the historic, successful and democratic election Somaliland had. All the three presenters were part of the International Election Observation mission as a Sort term observer. First, we had Dr. Scott Pegg Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). His presentation on ‘Twenty Years of De Facto State Studies: Progress, Problems and Prospects’ surfaced issues centering on the struggle for self-determination with in the past 20 years research including Somaliland whereby he stated that the challenge remains constant starting from naming such entities, irregularities in international principles and limitation on new perspective of academic dialog on the area. He further asserted that fundamentally there remains a continued failure to reach agreement on the number of these entities that exist or have existed since 1945. The nuanced and empirically rich academic literature has also largely failed to advance journalists or policymakers’ understanding of de facto states. Yet, the prospects for de facto state studies remain bright. More diverse comparative work, renewed attention to how engagement without recognition might facilitate the participation of unrecognized entities in international politics, a renewed focus on parent state strategies, and increased attention to de facto states and conflict resolution are areas deserving of greater scholarly attention was the pillar point he wanted to pass. Recent developments from Catalonia to Somaliland were discussed with in this presentation framework which lead to heated, informative and interesting dialog night.

With the well ignited appetite by Dr. Pegg’s presentation, we had our following Wednesday dialog with the young scholar Mr.Yusuf Serunkuma who is a PhD student at Makerere University Institute of Social Research (MISR), Makerere University in Kampala. His work focuses on exploiting the craft and aesthetics of popular culture (poetry, nationalist music, monuments, popular narratives and practices, national celebrations, fliers and symbols of statehood such as the national flag, and recent ethnography, 2015) mostly through ethnography, discourse and literary analysis, Yusuf’s work examines the ways in which Somaliland political identity and national consciousness is mobilized as an independent nation state seceding from Somalia. Using the case study of Somaliland, as a form of de-imagined nationalism, Yusuf then attempts to theorize secessionist nationalism (Eritrea, South Sudan, Pakistan, Biafra, Catalonia, Scotland etc.) as it is distinctly different from other forms of nationalism especially anticolonial nationalism. Participants were impressed with the diverging perspective he was trying to illustrate how identity depiction matters by negating the traditional ‘I am this because I am not that’ which he said unless aspiring nations start centering their self-determination in a way that starts and ends in what they are, he said will still be in a continuous challenge of waiting. In his explanation he stated that in Somaliland’s nationalist project he has two arguments: Firstly, he presents that through its “officially sponsored” popular cultural items (such as the symbols of statehood, monuments, nationalist music and poetry, select events such as the arrest of the Horn Stars returning from Mogadishu in 2015 etc.), Somaliland has constructed a public identity that thrives on an intimate juxtaposition/foil with Somalia. He argues that is perilous as there is potential for nationalist amnesia/violence once the foil disappears. Secondly, that although most of scholarship rightly celebrates the peace and stability in the country of the last 26 years, sustaining the images and histories of violence in its public identity and institutional symbolisms suggests it has remained a country at war.  He asserted that Somaliland ought to build a national consciousness without Somalia as its referent. “my suggestions include monumentalizing cultural and SNM heroes, first presidents, significant historical figures etc.”  Secondly, by defining itself in essentially internationalist terms (democrats, anti-terrorism, victims of a genocide), Somaliland surrenders both the power to define itself in its own terms (say, cultural-traditional) to the international regime of power, which defines those terms.  As well, this has potential to plunge the country into cultural/nationalist amnesia once the terms of the debate shift. On the bases of this presentation participants provided pro and critics by giving example of struggle all over the world which lighted up the discussion. Among the core comments were the international principle of state recognition being binding to have a referent state be it as a mother state or patron which are central in the self-determination process. well his argument popular culture shall be used to identify what Somaliland is as it stands on its own description was concluded with a performance by HCC Cultural Dance team that played ‘Hobbay’.

As the forum is centering Somaliland/Somalia based research with internationally acknowledged methodology and research practice, the three presentations we had resonated on Somaliland statehood and mechanisms for development that coincided with the election the state was on. The third presentation was by Miss Amanda Møller Rasmussen who has a background in Social Anthropology of Development (MA) from the School of Oriental and African Studies as well as in African Studies (MA) from the University of Copenhagen. She has been affiliated to the Centre of African Studies at Copenhagen University as a research assistant and project coordinator. Her research has mainly focused on Somaliland’s fishery sector and its development initiatives, exploring the various economic, social and epistemic networks that surround Somaliland’s fishery development on both a local and global level. During her presentation she stated that although fisheries in Somaliland have seldom caught the attention of scholars or international actors, the successful articulation of a linkage between “Somali piracy” and regional fisheries have led to more and more development attention, resources and technologies targeted at the Somaliland fishery industry. She argues that this has resulted in linking both local and global actors in an effort to securitize the region. Her presentation reflected more upon how these narratives are used to address issues of poverty and fishery development. At the same time, she investigates how these narratives have made the Somaliland fishery industry – a marginal and often unnoticed industry with little influence on the global community – into an arena from where different local and global actors are able to negotiate their interest, positions, and the allocation of development resources in a globalized world. In such a process establishing, appropriating, and re-establishing ideas about potential dangerous fishermen and the legitimacy of international development by linking up to local desires, global agendas, and the development epistemic communities that surrounds fishery development in Somaliland is mandatory was her point to take from the presentation. As always her presentation was also followed by supplementing perspectives and challenges that shadowed fishery which is an industry Somaliland has a wider opportunity for national development.

Well this is ADIH November with Wednesdays’ well spent, academic environment celebrated and the waiting for the next PhD presentation taking over as the last Wednesdays of each month are dedicated to a documentary featuring night that brings the public together to give the dialog another emerging dimension of academic discussion with socially significant documentaries. This week we are screening ‘Cultures of Resistance’ directed by Iara Lee to lead the way for another intellectual dialog and say goodbye to November a month that once again placed Somaliland back on top of democratic practice success story in Horn of Africa a region dominated by fear after election season.

Short course on Photography | HIBF Courses

The course

Redsea Cultural Foundation (RCF) is running a short course on photography on the 17th- 20th July 2017 in Hargeysa as part of the 10th Hargeysa International Book Fair. Places are limited to 10 students for the course and the deadline for the submission of application is before the 10th July 2017.

The course will cover:
– Brief history and principles of photography
– Technical training on manual camera settings: Exposure/Shutter
– Speed/Aperture/Depth of field
– Using natural light and using Flash
– Creative and professional development
– Simple post-production and editing

Requirements for applicants:
Each prospective student should write a short application stating why they want to do the course, and what their experience is so far, with 4/5 photos to support their application. Applicants must have access to a camera that works in ‘manual’ mode, preferably a digital SLR (but it can be a compact camera).

The successful applicants will have to present these in the class and explain what they would like to get out of the course.

Applications need to be submitted in person to the Hargeysa Cultural Centre (HCC) no later than Monday 10th July 2017, 14.30 (2.30 PM Hargeysa Local Time). The course subscription is free. Applicants are required to have HCC membership card which is available upon request at the HCC Office.

Course Lead:
Kate Stanworth is a professional documentary and portrait photographer and photo editor, from London. She has a degree from Norwich School of Art, and a Masters from the University of London. Her clients include many NGOs and publishers and she is working on self-initiated photography projects in Argentina, Somaliland and Europe. Her images have been published by the BBC, Time Out, The Guardian, CNN, International Business Times, High Life Magazine, TANK Magazine, Save the Children, Shelter and Mencap, among many others.

Redsea Cultural Foundation invites you to apublic lecture by Professor Ahmed I.Samatar

The 2016 United States presidential election had two unusual characteristics: (a) a woman, for the first time in the country’s history, became the nominee for one of the two major parties, and (b) the contest was extraordinarily uncivil and divisive. In the end, the least expected candidate, Donald Trump, won — though he lost the popular vote by more than 2.5 million ballots. President Trump’s in-coming administration seems to promise drastic change in both domestic public policy and approach to world affairs. This presentation interrogates two pertinent questions: (a) what were some of the main reasons behind Trump’s unexpected victory? and (b) what are some possible implications, if any, for Somaliland.

Public talk At Hargeysa Cultural Centre By Dr. Anjanette DeCarlo.

Frankincense (Boswellia carterii, B. frereana) resin harvesting has a deep historical and cultural heritage in Somaliland, providing economic benefits for centuries. Today the resins are highly relevant in the global economy, with applications in cosmetics, aromatherapy, and emerging medical and therapeutic applications. Thus, the
frankincense forests are key cultural and economic elements in Somaliland. However, our recent research is indicating that the demand for frankincense resin internationally is outpacing the supply. Sixyears ago there was a small market for these Somali resins now there is a booming market and a rise in the selling price. Harvesters are
drastically over harvesting trees in an effort to gain economically and meet exporters demand, causing the trees to die rapidly. This situation overall indicates the beginning of a serious and highly damaging resource conflict, and the impending collapse of thefrankincense forests.”

Watch Full Video

Resdsea Cultural Foundation is pleased to invite you to a public talk at Hargeysa Cultural Centre by Dr. Anjanette DeCarlo.

The title of her talk is “FRANKINCENSE IN PERIL – Analysis of Resin Economy in Somaliland”. The event will take place Wednesday, 19th October, 2016. — 19.30-21.30.

Frankincense (Boswellia carterii, B. frereana) resin harvesting has a deep historical and cultural heritage in Somaliland, providing economic benefits for centuries. Today the resins are highly relevant in the global economy, with applications in cosmetics, aromatherapy, and emerging medical and therapeutic applications. Thus, the
frankincense forests are key cultural and economic elements in Somaliland. However, our recent research is indicating that the demand for frankincense resin internationally is outpacing the supply. Sixyears ago there was a small market for these Somali resins now there is a booming market and a rise in the selling price. Harvesters are
drastically over harvesting trees in an effort to gain economically and meet exporters demand, causing the trees to die rapidly. This situation overall indicates the beginning of a serious and highly damaging resource conflict, and the impending collapse of thefrankincense forests.”


Dr. Anjanette DeCarlo, Ph.D., is currently a Visiting Professor of Environmental Studies at St. Michael’s College. Previously she was a Senior Jeffords Fellow at the Institute for Environmental Diplomacy & Security at the University of Vermont (UVM). Her Ph.D. in natural resources from UVM focused on environment, women’s empowerment, and conflict resolution as a merged agenda for sustainable development. She is currently working on reconciliation in post-war countries as well as the power of trade and commerce to create peace in conflict
zones. As a development consultant with 20 years field experience, she specializes in Africa, Latin America, and the United States.

Dr. DeCarlo will be joined by Mr. Ahmed Ibrahim Awale, currently chair of Candlelight Organization, which is a prominent environmental organization in Somaliland, as well as the chair and founding member of Somaliland Biodiversity Foundation, and a faculty member at the University of Hargeysa where he teaches environmental science.”

A day to remember HCC has a permanent space

Somaliland Government has assigned a plot of land to the Hargeysa Cultural Centre. We had the privilege to work with, and get their assistance, Minister for Information, Guidance and Culture; Minister of Religious Affairs; Minister of Public Work and Housing, Deputy Minister of Ministry of Planning, Minister for Presidency and the Mayor of the Capital, to secure this space for the Culture and Art in Somaliland. We are thankful.
We were lucky to get support and assistance from our former board member and now Minister for Environment Shukri H Ali Bandare and we are thankful.
We got support and assistance, sometimes donations but also othertimes the very needed urgent loan, from Somaliland business people, among them Daallo Airlines, Dahabshiil Group of Companies and Telesom; but also from other friends of the HCC who provided rescue hand when we were close to give up.
I want to thank all of you, and in particularly thank those who joined  this morning the board, the staff, the volunteers and friends of HCC, to celebrate the foundation of the future Center.
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The Hargeysa Cultural Center was opened in August 2014 in Hargeysa, Somaliland. The Center was established by Redsea Cultural Foundation (RCF). Since its establishment, the Hargeysa Cultural Center has become an important feature in Hargeysa’s cultural landscape. The success of the center owes much to the respect that RCF has gained from its work on running the annual Hargeysa International Book Fair, which, now in its eighth year, has become one of the most admired cultural events in the region.

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