A young poet living in Burco, one of the main cities of the self-declared independent republic of Somaliland, a breakaway region in north Somalia, has been thrown in prison by authorities there after he composed and publicly recited a poem celebrating the election of Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo. His colleague, who recied the poem with him, is currently being hunted by Somaliland authorities.
Farmaajo, who is known for being technocratic and hostile to corruption, is highly popular in Somalia, and his election sparked mass public celebrations throughout the country including in regions of Somaliland less under the thumb of Somaliland authorities.
Somaliland declared it’s independence from Somalia in 1991, and has since that time desperately sought outside recognition for its statehood although none has been forthcoming. Authorities there claim that the overwhelming majority of people living in that territory support its succession bid from Somalia, although this claim is undermined by the large amounts of ‘Somaliland’ territory that resist the authority of Somaliland officials and assert their support for a united Somalia.
Although ostensibly democratic and with a constitution that enshrines freedom of speech, Somaliland authorities regularly jail any person who voices support for the continued political unity of Somalia, or does anything that can be interpreted as demonstrating support. Two years ago, in an incident that made international headlines, all the members of a famous Somaliland music group were thrown into prison after they held a show in Mogadishu where they allegedly waved the Somali flag.
It is not yet clear what these two poets will be charged with or what sentence will be imposed on them. Previously journalists or artists held for similar offenses have reported being beaten and coerced into vowing silence before being released. Sometimes they are released relatively quickly, and other times they spend months languishing in prison.
YouTube video of the poetry that earned the two young poet’s the ire of Somaliland authorities: