Bringing Back the Nation’s Soul

When I joined Heritage Institute at its inception in January, its Director informed me I will be put in charge of the Institute’s most ambitious project; renovating and reopening The National Library (TNL). A fan of reading and writing, I was very excited of leading the team that will give Mogadishu’s two million inhabitants a public library after 23 years of civil strife. It’s an ambitious but attainable plan that could reinvigorate the culture of learning, research and inquiry in Mogadishu. More importantly, the TNL would become a major stabilizing force in the city. Tens of thousands of youth, at risk of radicalization and recruitment, will find the TNL a solace.

Notwithstanding that Somalis are famously an oral society; there was an established culture of reading, research and inquiry in most urban areas. The country had a national library before the civil war erupted in 1991. The National Library (TNL) was a giant, three-story building at the center of Mogadishu, opposite the National Theatre. We envision TNL as a vehicle that will actively promote the true Somali and Islamic values of nonviolence, tolerance and democracy. By adopting a public-private partnership approach we aim to make TNL a project through which government, business community, civil society and the large Diaspora to come together to create a sanctuary for learning and culture. We wish to show that the Somali people can take ownership of nation-building and collectively, by taking civil responsibility, create an institution that will serve as the nation’s soul. In the battle for ideas, TNL would serve as powerful weapon against extremist values and stand as a monument for mental development.

At the start of the project, I was quite overwhelmed by what needed to be done; the building is completely shattered and still occupied by internally displaced peoples (IDPs) who will need to be appropriately relocated; that alone would present a serious security issue. The biggest challenge however was ideological. Despite the recent mushrooming of universities and other educational institutions, there’s a great need to revive a culture of reading which has almost completely died out as a result of two decades of war. Reopening the library is one thing, getting people to come and preserve the books was a completely other. Had we bitten off more than we could chew?

Five months on, I am starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. We have gained the authorization from the Prime Minister to reopen the library (the building is and will remain a government building); we have received pledges from Somali businesses that are very keen on investing in a Somali-led and Somali-owned project; a board of trustees compromising of seven people that will oversee the management of the library has been convened and includes high profile individuals such as the award winning activist and member of Parliament HE Asha Haji Elmi and the current Director General of the Ministry of Education Prof. Mohamed Abdulqadir. We have also recruited prominent persons as “Friends of Somali National Library’ and include US Congressman Keith Ellison, Turkish Ambassador to Somalia Amb. Karin Torin and the Speaker of Parliament HE Mohamed Sheikh ‘Jawari’. The Mayor of Mogadishu, Mr. Mohamed Nur has also pledged his support for the initiative saying ‘a city without a library is a dead city’; he will assist with the relocation of the IDPs and remain a Friend of the library. To overcome the lack of culture of reading we will shortly launch the “Get Somalia Reading” national campaign which includes citywide reading campaigns, literature programs, speaking events and screening of films and documentaries all with the aim of getting the public to engage with the literature world.

The restoration and reopening of The National Library in Mogadishu is an ambitious project indeed, but one that has far greater potential than challenges. To borrow the words of Frederick Douglass – the slave who taught himself how to read – ‘once you learn to read you will be forever free’. By offering release from mental slavery we hope reviving the national library will revive the nation’s soul.

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One Comment

  1. Posted November 2013 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Since i back to Somalia this is the only project which according to me is more beneficial to the Somalia people we have been through more then two decade of violence and anarchy which resulted extremist, indoctrination of young brains, how ever we see together the light at the end of the tunnel please try to organize a workshops for brainstorming and how we can make this project is realistic and achievable

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