Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud left the Somali capital on Sunday for Djibouti to attend a convention marking the 40th anniversary of Somali language reforms. This is the second visit by Mr. Mohamud to the tiny Red Sea nation since his election last September by Somali MPs in Mogadishu.
The Somali language is spoken by about 15 million people and dates back to ancient times. The convention underway in Djibouti will mark 40 years since the new Somali alphabet was introduced. In October 1972 Somalia’s former President Mohamed Siad Barre introduced the English Latin alphabet replacing the previously used Arabic script. The initiative was the brain child of Somali linguist Shire Jama Ahmed.
Siad, who introduced many policies to Somalia designed to free the nation from century old views and influences saw language as integral part of his long term nationalist program. He felt that Somalis needed a new identities and nationalist views. He saw Arabic as religion identity but felt Somali people lacked strong cultural and language identity. He further argued that Somalis needed language reform that was modern, practical, and precise, and less difficult to learn than Arabic. He introduced the policy of “bar ama baro” or “teach or learn” in an effort to speed up the transition from Arabic to Somali. The bar ama baro program required students to learn the new Somali language in the morning and by afternoon they had to be teaching rural areas. It was one of his most successful policies and in a period of just five years he made history. By 1978, the majority of Somalis were said to be literate and his program became the fastest developments of mass literacy anywhere in the world.
Somali linguists and academia will celebrate the 40th anniversary since the development from Monday 17th to the 22nd of December. The event will be attended by Somali politicians and academia from Mogadishu, Somaliland, Puntland, Northern Frontier District (NFD) region of Kenya, The Somali State of Ethiopia and Djibouti. The event will bring together Somalis from the entire Horn of Africa for the first time in many years.
President Hassan on his part promised to revive the Somali language and help restore it along with the Somali State while preparing for the convention.
The convention was organized by the Djibouti-based Somali Pen organization and they will launch the largest Somali dictionary since 1976 when President Siad unveiled Qaamuus kooban ee af Soomaali ah and Qaamuuska Af-Soomaaliga.