The assignments I take on for BBC Media Action sometimes
take my breath away. Take my most recent project, for example: travel to the
Horn of Africa and facilitate the creation of a 24-episode radio drama, I was
Make sure it fosters a sense of Somali identity and inspires
young people to engage in their communities and the social issues that affect
them. It goes without saying it has to be relevant to all three regions of
Somalia (Southern, Puntland and Somaliland).
It must be entertaining, well written, have high production values and
relevant to its target youth audience. Oh, and you’ve got ten days.
Sometimes working here can feel a bit like the start of a
Mission Impossible film.
To be fair, we didn’t have to create all 24 episodes. But writing
and producing four of them still felt like a tall order.
Return to Somalia
It’s been eight years since I was last in Hargeisa and my
memories of it are a bit vague. On arrival I’m shocked to see how the hot dusty
little town, famous for its “plastic bag trees” has grown into a metropolis,
albeit still pretty hot and dusty. Hotels are bursting at the seams not just
because the town is hosting the 7th International Book Fair but also
because the diaspora has come home for the summer.
Somalia’s 800,000-strong diaspora is spread far and wide but
most people maintain strong ties to the homeland. I was told that “Somalis never lose each
other”, such is the strength of solidarity that exists among Somali families.
If the value of the remittances is anything to go by (approximately $1.3bn USD annually)
this comment would appear to be very true.
Perhaps it’s no surprise then that our young writers Yasmin
Mohamed Kahin, Yasin Ali and Rahma Said chose to feature migrants’ stories in
Each told me stories of people they knew who had left
Somalia, most in search of a better life in Europe or America who continue to
send money back to the family at home.
Some of these stories do not end well. Rahma talked about the
people who set out on foot to cross the Sahara attempting to reach Europe via
the increasingly treacherous Mediterranean route. All had stories of Somalis
who had been detained for travelling on false documents, beaten and worse.
Another all too common hazard are the people smugglers who
promise to take people to Europe but then essentially kidnap them until their
family can pay the thousands of dollars they demand.
Our radio drama Maalma Dhaama Maanta (A better life
than today) is the story of young Somalis who dream of a better life.
All the characters fall somewhere on the spectrum between
staying in the homeland and making a life for themselves, and looking to a
better future elsewhere.
Hassan Osman plays the character of Omer.
It is a story of hard choices, hope and possibility as the
young characters explore the sometimes difficult decisions they have to make to
keep their lives and identity together.
Supported by the Somalia
Stability Fund it will be Somalia’s first interactive radio drama where
audiences regularly get to determine the choices the key characters make.
Each month radio listeners will have the opportunity to vote
via SMS on a crucial decision or dilemma facing one of the characters and the
writing team will incorporate the popular vote into the storyline of the drama.
It will be broadcast across the whole of
Somalia via partner stations and the BBC Somali Service.
To get a taste of the drama, listen on SoundCloud to
a song from one scene which takes place at a sitaad, a traditional
gathering where Somali women come together to sing devotional songs, share
stories and offer support to each other.
Amran Mahad plays Ugasso in the drama
Storytelling in Somalia
Storytelling is strongly rooted the oral culture of Somalia.
“A lie has a short leg, the truth will soon catch it up” is a saying I heard at
a writers session at the Hargeisa International Book Fair this year.
The young writers I have been working with on Maalma
Dhaama Maanta have a great responsibility to tell the truth of the migrant
story in a way that will engage, inform and stimulate young Somalis.
It definitely puts my task as the facilitator into
Maalma Dhaama Maanta begins on 12 September 2014 and
will be broadcast for six months.