The politics of literary promotion & cultural activism in the Horn of Africa: Book Fairs & the Somali digital public

Since 2008, Book Fairs held across the Somali Horn of Africa have been a notable feature of civil society activism in a region usually associated (in external narratives) with conflict and crisis. At the forefront of these efforts to promote Somali-language print culture is a digitally-connected and social media-savvy generation of young people. This presentation explores the work done by books (as symbolic objects) and Book Fairs (as multimedia cultural festivals) to provide distinctive spaces for debate about Somali identities. Attention to local histories of media development is necessary for understanding the relationships that exist between print and digital culture, and the destabilisation of clear temporal distinctions between ‘old’ and ‘new’ media technologies. Based on the researcher’s participant-observation at Book Fairs in Hargeisa and Mogadishu, the presentation highlights how the contemporary digital media environment affects the ways in which print culture is promoted – facilitating cross-border civil society networks, and intensifying the political salience of literary activism for actors articulating different visions for the reconstruction of Somali statehood(s).