1/2013
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Somali language 40 years

The creation of an intergovernmental Academy.

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From left to right: Sherif Salaax (the president of the 1972 Somali language Committee, which has chosen the alphabet of the language), Amina Muuse Weheliye (a famous journalist of Universal TV) Dr. Djama Mohamed Hassan (President of Djibouti University), Dr. Abdirachid Mohamed Ismail (Chair of the Conference organizing comittee), Prof. Mohamed Xaji Rabi (well-known Somali linguist).

From 17th to 21st December 2012, Djibouti hosted the 40th anniversary of the official script of the Somali language. This event has been celebrated also in many other parts of the world that the Somalis inhabit (UK, USA, etc.).

In Djibouti, the celebration was held under the patronage of the President of the Republic of Djibouti, and it was inaugurated on Monday, December 17th, 2012 at the Kempinski Palace. This event was an opportunity to witness the meeting of the three Somali speaking presidents, Mr. Ismail Omar Guelle, Sheikh Hassan Mahamoud, and Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Mahamoud Silaanyo, President of the Republic of Djibouti, President of the Federal Republic of Somalia and President of Somaliland respectively. The Somali region of Ethiopia was represented by its Minister of Information, Mr. Mohamed Gourreh Bisleh.

A festival for Somali language

The international non-governmental association Somali-PEN, which has its headquarters in Djibouti, organized the celebration in collaboration with the University of Djibouti, the latter being in charge of the organization of a scientific conference on the standardization of the Somali language.

The event was in fact composed of three parts: an exhibition of new books written in or on Somali, a cultural meeting based on recitation of poems and discussion, and the international conference on the Somali language. The conference brought together scholars working on the Somali language and literature, writers, journalists and artists. The event was intended to be a feast to celebrate the forty years of the official creation of the Somali scripture, but also an opportunity to reflect on the development of the written form of the language. Therefore, this event was named FestSom40 by the organizers.

The festival was followed up around the world through the satellite channel of the RTD (Radio and Television of Djibouti) which broadcasted live the scientific symposium, the evening meetings of the poets, along with reports and interviews conducted during the event.

The Djiboutians, and the audience in general, had the opportunity to enhance their knowledge about the issues related to the standardization of Somali orthography, Somali literature, and many issues related to culture and history, but also to enjoy the poetic impulse of the inspiring guests during the evening meetings.

Recommendation of the conference: the creation of an Academy for the Somali language

More than forty participants contributed to the conference on the standardization of the Somali language. At the end of the conference, scholars made several recommendations; the main one was to create an academy of the Somali language working on the issues which were discussed during the conference. This recommendation was repeatedly suggested since the day of the inauguration when the Presidents spoke. The name proposed is Akademiyada Daryeelka Af-Soomaaliga (ADA) which may be translated as the Academy for the development of the Somali language.

The creation of an academy for the Somali language is an idea shared by Somali politicians and scholars working or using the Somali language. At the end of the conference, a technical committee composed of nine scholars and academicians has been established by the Djibouti government to elaborate the status and rules for the academy. The committee consists of Dr. Abdirachid Mohamed Ismail (President), Dr. Mohamed Daher Afrax (Vice-President), Dr. Abdinasir Ahmed Ibrahim, Mr. Aden Hassan Aden Belelo, Mr. Mohamed Xaji Rabi, Dr. Hibo Moumin Assoweh, Mr. Mustafe Abdillahi Feirus, Mr. Said Salah Ahmed and Mr. Abdalla Omar Mansur.

From left to right: Dr. Ladan Affi (Member of the technical committee for the creation of ADA), Dr. Djama Mohamed Hassan (President of the Djibouti  University), Dr. Nabil Mohamed Ahmed (Minister of Higher Education and Research), Mr. Aden Hassan Aden (Belelo) (Minister of Religion affairs and Culture),  Dr. Abdirachid Mohamed Ismail (President of the technical committee), Dr. Madina Daher Okieh (Executive Secretary of Djibouti  University) and Dr. Hassan Ali Barkad (Dean of the Faculty of Technology, Djibouti University).

Today the question is no longer why to create such an institution for the Somali language, because it has been noted in numerous conferences that the Somali orthography needs to be improved, its written literature to be enhanced, its widening dialectalization to be controlled, and its innovation to be encouraged. The question is neither when the academy should be created, since the idea of creating an academy is widely shared by Somalis. Moreover, it is easily observable that Somali is currently under pressure from Arabic and English languages in the area where it used to be so strong (Somalia/Somaliland), especially in the educational system.

The question is rather how the structure of the Academy should be. Before trying to answer this question it is important to keep in mind that the Somali language is the only language spoken in all the countries of the Horn of Africa. This is one of the principal reasons why Acalan (African Academy of Languages) of the African Union has paid particular attention to this language amongst other cross-border languages of Africa. However, the promotion and preservation of a language primarily concern its speakers.

Regarding the question of its structure and management, there is a general consensus that the Academy should be an intergovernmental institution as it is the best way to secure scientific efficiency and economic sustainability. As the Academy needs to establish standards and references, it is clear that only an intergovernmental institution, representing all countries and regions where Somali is spoken, can effectively play this role.

It is a fact, that the Somali speaking area is very heterogeneous in its political organization, and diverse in its ability to integrate an inter-governmental institution. According to possible scenarios, we have, first, a minimal situation with only two states (Djibouti and Federal Republic of Somalia) and, second, a more integrative scenario with five or six entities. A situation that goes beyond these two scenarios would be too complex to carry out.

To conclude, the FestSom40 was not only an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of revitalizing the Somali language, which has been weakened at least since the fall of the Somali central government, but it also expresses the will and wish to proceed from words to deeds. Therefore, the project of creating a cross-border Academy for this language has been initiated.

Abdirachid M. Ismail holds PhD in Somali dialectology. He is a teacher at the University of Djibouti and Chief Executive of the Continuous Training Center of the University of Djibouti.

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Photos: Abdirachid M. Ismail