POSTPONED: Africa 2020: Somali Day: Culture and politics through the lens of Somali literature

Because of the government measures relating to the corona outbreak, we unfortunately have to cancel the Somali Day on 2 April. We are looking for a new date later this year, so please keep an eye on this website.

On 1 July 1960 Somalia became an independent state. In the framework of 'Africa 2020', the ASCL, its Library and LeidenASA will pay attention to this complex region of the Horn of Africa, praised for its (oral) literature, marked by its civil war and voiced by its diaspora. During the 'Somali Day' on 2 April, the country will be addressed from a historical-cultural perspective by reconsidering Somali culture and governance through the lens of its literature and diaspora.

The organisers take and support the view on literature considered as “the best way to transform consciousness, the way through which you can get access into others people lives” (Ahmed Jimale Ahmed in an interview by Sampsonia Way, April 18, 2018). This insight is just one among a handful raised by plenty of other scholars, thinkers and writers who have made Somali poetry, fiction and history resonate in wider circles (to name but a few, Nuruddin Farah, Ioan Lewis, Bogumil Andrzejewski, Martin Orwin, Fiona Moolla). Their views allow us to interpret Somalia from the inside and outside, within the frame of the following themes:

  • political culture and religious discourse
  • writers and their engagement in literature
  • contemporary cultural expressions of identity formation

Showcase of Somali books purchased by the ASCL Library
On the occasion of this Somali independence celebration day, the African Studies Centre Library will present the latest collection of books recently purchased from the region, attesting to the remarkable huge number of texts in the Somali language on Somali literature, culture and history.

Read the web dossier on Somali literature, compiled by the ASCL Library.
Read the Infosheet 'Somalia at 60'.

Organizing committee
Jan Abbink, Professor of Politics and Governance in Africa, African Studies Centre, Leiden University
Annachiara Raia, University Lecturer, African Studies Centre Leiden and Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society
Gerard van de Bruinhorst, Information specialist and responsible for acquisitions policy and collection development, ASCL Library

Preliminary programme

14.30 – 14.45 Walking in
14.45 – 15.00  Opening and introduction by Jan Abbink (ASCL) and Annachiara Raia (ASCL/LUCAS)

15.00-15.15 Lecture by Jos Damen (African Studies Centre Library)
Somali books in Leiden: decolonizing the library?

15.15.-15.45 Key note lecture by Ali Jimale Ahmed (CUNY University)
Culture and Politics through the Lens of Somali Literature
Chair: Jan Abbink

15.45 – 16.00 Tea break 

16.00-16.15 lecture by Yasmin Noor (MA student, Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University)
Silenced histories: understanding other voices in the Ethiopian-Ogaden conflict through Somali heeso (songs)

16.15-16.45 Key note lecture by Martin Orwin (SOAS University of London)
Somali music: from kaman to keyboard
Chair: Annachiara Raia

16.45 -17.10 Q & A

17.15 walking to the library
17.20-17.45 Showcase of Somali books purchased by the ASCL Library, presented by Gerard van de Bruinhorst and Yasmin Noor

17.45 drinks

Abstracts of the keynote lectures (PDF)

Keynote speakers

Ali Jimale Ahmed, CUNY University
Martin Orwin, SOAS, University of London

Ali Jimale Ahmed is Chair and Professor of Comparative Literature at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center. Creative teaching is, for Ahmed, one of the cornerstones of academic learning.His poetry and short stories have been translated into several languages.


Martin Orwin is a Senior Lecturer in Somali and Amharic at SOAS, University of London. His research focus is on Somali poetry; metre and literary linguistics; and the relationship between language and music.


Date, time and location

02 April 2020
15.00 - 18.00
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Room: 0A28 (ground floor).