SETH ONYANGO, BIRD STORY AGENCY
“XIINTOOY is more attractive when the pinkish sun is setting and fading away with its reflection on the water and the dark of the night is spreading behind the enormous mango trees,” quips Farhia Mohamud Hassan in her “A Scene of Two Cities: Nostalgia and Beauty.”
Armed with words, a smartphone and a love for her motherland, Hassan’s blogging is providing the world with a different lens through which to view Somalia.
For the 26-year-old economist, narratives are important and she hopes that through her writing, the world will share the beauty that so pervades much of her country; a beauty that often goes unrecognised due to the media’s preoccupation with the ongoing insurgency.
“There is a niche in blogging, and I hope other youths are inspired to embrace it. For me, I write about both personal and societal issues, but one of the things I also try to do through my blogging is changing the negative narratives surrounding Somalia. It is high time we express the positive sides of our country and ourselves,” Hassan told the United Nations Assistance Mission In Somalia (UNSOM)
“I especially advise young girls to write,” she added. “The more one writes, the more one captures people’s attention and can help change narratives for the better. Somali women, in particular, must embrace the culture of blogging and writing.”
UNSOM notes in its special report that while blogging may be common in other parts of the world, it is less so in Somalia where the spoken word has long dominated.
“Somalis developed an oral tradition of poetry and storytelling since at least the 12th century and that has been passed down through generations,” the UN agency says in the report.
It is on that premise that Farhia is now helping build a network of bloggers to help tell different stories about Somalia as well as influence political decisions.
Her stories appear both in Somali and in English, providing a rare opportunity for stories of today’s Somalia to be picked up and reposted by other bloggers, social media and even the mainstream media.
It’s a passion she takes very seriously, given the many opportunities for false narratives to take root and fester, in part due to the amount of fake news put out on the Somali internet and the paucity of day-to-day reportage in languages other than Somali. She hopes her mission, which began in June 2021, will gather steam amongst other bloggers and counter the spread of fake news, disinformation, or misinformation.
“I collect data, synthesise, write and share with people. For me, the process has strengthened my research, writing and thinking skills,” she noted.
Her work has been recognised by UNSOM, and her work at Somali Public Agenda (SPA), which organises training workshops on blogging for youth, has helped amplify her work in the Somali blogging community.
SPA training sessions began in 2021 and, so far, 44 young Somalis – half of them women – have taken part in the eight-day training programme, which focuses on planning, drafting and editing skills.
“I help organise these training workshops, and I also edit and provide constructive feedback on the participants’ work,” Hassan explained.
Asia Mohamed, currently a senior research officer at Somali Research Development Institute (SORDI), is one of the participants who set up her own blog site after taking part in the training.
“I now write about social issues affecting Somalis and have learned to raise my voice through my blogging,” Mohamed said.
Hassan’s blogging skills recently earned her a 10-day residential co-creation workshop on blogging and storytelling skills workshop in Rome, Italy.
The workshop, which was organised by ArtXchange, a project supported by the International Committee for the Development of Peoples (CISP) and whose partners include the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), drew participants from across Africa and Europe.
“It… focused on storytelling and poetry for peace. It was an incredible experience in which I represented my country alongside two other Somalis,” Hassan said.
Hassan’s hope is that increased blogging activities will not only reflect a different reality but will help usher it in, too.