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Bollywood: Why Somalis love Indian cinema

Editorial Team



Photo: Hollywood Reporter

Indian cinemas are popular among Somalis in the Horn of Africa region with many households which own TV sets subscribing to at least one Indian channel which airs Bollywood movies and series.

The popularity of these shows is not restricted to the Horn of Africa country but extends to Somalis living in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia.

The love of Bollywood can perhaps be epitomised in this quote from one of several Somali pirates who was arrested by the Indian navy in 2011: “I love India and Bollywood. I have seen India on television and started loving it. I want to visit every Indian city,” India’s NDTV reported at the time. Among the items seized from the pirates – besides weapons – were DVDs of Bollywood films.

Popular Somali TV channels almost often air Indian soap operas. The movies are dubbed into Somali thus enabling viewers to follow the plot without any language barriers.

Cinema halls, and movie stores in the region, aimed at Somali audiences, almost exclusively screen or sell Indian films.
The popularity of the movies has also promoted Indian music, featured in the films, among Somalis. This music is often played at home or during weddings.

Before Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabab group emerged, youths in the northeastern Kenya border town of Mandera would occasionally cross over into Somalia’s Buulo Haawo to watch Indian movies. This was as a result of Muslim clerics, and the local authorities, clamping down on cinema halls which have sometimes been perceived as enticing school children into truancy.

Cinema halls in Al-Shabab-held areas in Somalia are non-operational as the Al-Qaeda-linked group considers pop culture “unIslamic”. In 2006, the Union of Islamic Courts – the precursor to Al-Shabab – which was in control of central and southern Somalia, arrested, and flogged, many people for watching Indian movies in public entertainment spots.

In 2014, Al-Shabab banned the sale and use of smart phones in areas under its control. Part of the reason was to prevent locals from downloading and watching movies, or listening to songs, through their phones.

Somalis are also increasingly obtaining Bollywood gossip from websites and blogs which publish in their vernacular. Some of the popular websites for news and information on Indian films include Netherlands-based and

A few years ago, an online forum, Somalinet Forum, hosted a discussion on whether Somali women should be allowed to watch Indian movies with critics opposing the shows saying they would encourage them to “ask their husbands to treat them the way Bollywood actors treat their partners.
Bollywood influence is common among students. Popular girls have often been given nicknames such as Kajol or Priyanka derived from star actresses Kajol Devgan and Priyanka Chopra. Boys on the other hand have been nicknamed after characters such Karan and Arjun, rather than the actors themselves.

Shah Ruh Khan, Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan are among the most popular Indian actors among Somalis.

Not every actor is referred to by his actual name. For example Akshay Kumar is often referred to as Mr Bond for his role in the eponymous 1992 movie directed by Raj Sippy.

Another actor, Amitabh Bachchan, is popularly known as Ali Dheere – the tall Ali – because of his height. Ali is a popular Somali name and it is easier for most Somalis since his real name is difficult to pronounce. Bachchan gained popularity in India’s film industry in the 1970s and is one of the most influential Bollywood actors.

Indian films, unlike productions from Hollywood and Nigeria’s Nollywood, are popular due to cultural similarities between Somalis and Indians. Hollywood is seen as violent and full of nudity and indecency.

Amina Ali, a 24 year-old mother of one in Nairobi, Kenya, is watching Kasamh Se (The Promise) – an Indian soap opera produced by Ekta Kapoor of Balaji Telefilms. The story is about three sisters Bani, Pia and Rano. After their father’s death, the three sisters go to Mumbai according to what their fathers will said and go to live in Jai Walia’s house a famous business tycoon who knew their father.

Malyun, Amina’s younger sister, is fightingfor the remote-control.She wants to switch it into another channel airing her favourite series, Jamai Raja. Jamai Raja is the story of a young man Sidharth, who despite being a jet-setting hotelier with a growing empire to tend to, takes it upon himself to repair the estranged relationship between his wife Roshni and mother-in law Durga Devi Patel (DD).

“I like watching Indian films, we do have some similarities. We wear the saris as the Indian women and they don’t show indecency films,” said Amina.

The plots usually revolve around the themes of love, family relations, and arranged marriages, which attract Somali audiences.
The Indian female dress, the sari, is almost similar to the Somali ‘garba saar’ while women in both societies don’t kiss in public.

Similarly, the fact that members of extended Indian families often live together is a trait that Somalis can closely identify with.

However, Indian films are facing competition from Yesilcam – Turkish cinemas. Turkish soap operas are also gaining popularity among this community. The filsm are bubed in Somalia, so there would e language barrier.

Despite Bollywood’s popularity, few realise the shared cultural connection between these two societies on either side of the Indian Ocean.

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University education in Somalia: Quality or quantity?

Editorial Team



Students at Mogadishu National University. Photo l Ilyas A. Abukar.

There has been proliferation of universities in Somalia as guns continue to fell silence and relative stability returns to the Horn of Africa nation.

Business people, Non-Governmental Organisations and religious bodies have taken advantage of a lack of central authority that could regulate and accredit the education sector and started their own universities as businesses. There are calls to reduce the number of tertiary institutions in the country amid concerns that the standard of education has weakened.

Somalia needs universities that produce graduates who would be able to rebuild the country and a shuttered economy, but its universities are mostly commercial focused – competing for students, qualified or not qualified – and at the end, produce half-baked graduates.

There are 100 tertiary institutions across Somalia, with Mogadishu hosting 60% of them, according to Abdulkadir Abdi Hashi, a former minister of Education and Culture.

These universities admit students who are not qualified to join any university, compromising the standard and quality of education. Many students securing places at universities lack secondary school education, a number of them “graduating” from private tuition and those who home-schooled themselves.

The education offered by some of these universities is of poor quality that does not meet international standard, and the recipients are students who were originally not qualified to enroll in a university. Majority of them offer social science and business-related courses, although important, Somalia needs science and technology to rebuild from the ruins it is in.

Somali universities admit 50,000 students annually, but the number of students graduating from secondary schools is much less. For example, 27,000 students from 120 secondary schools sat for a unified national examination. In normal circumstance, not all secondary school graduates get admitted to university. In the last three years, students sitting for national examinations jumped from 4,600 to 27,000.

The government standardised and unified the examinations three years ago. Before that, there had been no standardised examinations since the collapse of Somalia’s last effective central government in 1991. This means every secondary school leaver and others – join universities.

“When these students graduate, they are not fit for the market, and cannot compete with students from neighbouring countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia or those from Djibouti,”Hashi said at a educational forum in Mogadishu.

The government said it is working to strengthen rules governing the establishment and regulation of universities, but almost nothing has been done. Few universities are self-regulating.

Employers in Somalia, including international organisations and investors hire foreigners because of lack of skilled personnel. Somalis from the diaspora with foreign university education are returning to the country to fill the vacuum. Still, that is not enough.

“We have had an uncontrolled upsurge of universities, leading to a scramble for students to enroll; thus we have been seeing even those who don’t qualify to join universities enrolled and this has saturated the system and put a great dent on the standards and quality of higher education in the country,” Hassan Ali, a former education consultant at Somalia’s Ministry of Education, said.

Somalia has only one public university – Somali National University which was established in 1970 and closed in 1989 due to unrest that led to the collapse of the government in 1991. It was reopened in 2014. The rest are privately-owned and run.

Somalia’s 30 year-old civil unrest has almost completely destroyed the country’s educational system, affecting the future of millions of school-aged children. The government has initiated a “Go-To-School” campaign to target one million children and youths who were out of school so that they could study and help their country is producing good results, with so many children going to school, although enrolment due to security and Somali’s pastoral economy remain a problem.

Although gains have been made, education in this Horn of Africa nation faces many challenges, including underinvestment. Somalia’s schools are dealing with poor quality of education, insufficient numbers of qualified teachers, and inadequate resources.

Successive governments have always promised to give education the same priority as security, but those promises have not yet been fulfilled and it does not look like it will happen in the near future.

After reforms targeting secondary education, the government needs to look into the university education and bring about reforms.

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Arts and Culture

How Somalia came to have its name

Editorial Team




In the strictest sense of the political theory, Somalia is one of the few countries in Africa that we may refer to as a ‘nation’. The overwhelming majority of those in that territory share common ancestry and heritage.

To explain further, we can say that a “Somali” is not simply a national of Somalia but also possibly one person who has an ethnic background in Somali-land.

According to Somali tradition, all Somalis share the progenitor Samaale. This mythical father of the Somali nation is often considered the basis for the nomenclature Somali.

However, there are different schools of thought regarding the name of the people. One of the most potent theories holds that Somali was derived from two words in the language of the people: soo maal, which translates into “go and milk”.

The potency of the “go and milk” theory lies within the nearly one millennium of pastoralism practiced by the people. Livestock breeding, especially of cattle and sheep, continues to be a fundamental aspect of modern Somali life.

There is yet another theory that holds the Somali is actually the Arabic word zawamal corrupted. Zawamal means “wealth”, a reference to the people’s livestock.

This presumptive connection between the Somalis and Arabia is part of a belief that has persisted for centuries. There are those who say that the nation of Somalis descended from the Quraysh Banu Hashim clan, specifically Aqiil, a nephew of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

However, scholars dismiss this belief that Somalis descended from the Holy Prophet’s clan. It is often treated as an abstract notion reified by the place of Islam in Somali society.

The people of Somalia have been through a lot since 1960 when the first Somali Republic was formed, with the country struggling to maintain stability over a significant period of time. But in their uniquely shared identity, they retain the opportunity to find common purpose.


This article was adopted from Face2Face Africa

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Somalia: Changing the Narrative

A Somali Imam is Using Storytelling To Change Society and Political System

The Imam in a Mogadishu mosque discusses current affairs; he touched on the political fight between Donald Trump and Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born US Congresswoman, the Somalia,-Kenya maritime dispute and relations between the federal and regional governments, among others

Editorial Team




Stories matter. People make sense of the world through stories and shape up how we understand it.

Somalia requires new stories, but people will listen when they themselves are included in the story-line.

An Imam at a mosque in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, is doing exactly that, offering a new narrative to show what is possible. Sheikh Abdi Hayi is shifting gears and is bringing new ways of telling stories in an unlikely place: a mosque.

Sheikh Abdi Hayi, a brown taqiyah atop his head, white and black-dotted turban draped over his shoulders, and in a white thobe, captivates his audience.

Somalis are now giving more attention to his sermons than they would a politician’s speech. The difference between the two is obvious – Abdi’s’s is entertaining and informative. Politicians focus on how their clans could capture power in the next elections.

For the last three decades, politicians have failed to change the country and get it out of a 30-year-old mess.

Somalia’s problems cannot be solved by doing more of the same. New narratives like that of Sheikh Abdi’s are needed – connecting people’s motivations and promoting radical actions.

Sheikh Abdi’s stories engage people’s minds, emotions and imaginations, which are drivers of real change – a change Somalia so desperately needs.

Sheikh Abdi focuses on social, cultural and political issues as well as current affairs in his Friday summons, using ‘once upon a time’ tales from pre-television and social media days, and uses examples from the Koran and Hadith – the sayings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon on him.

“I discuss what people think are important in their lives and what interest them. You can guide people in the mosque, this should be the place to discuss what matters to people, it could also be a rehabilitation centre,” he says.

In one of his summons, the Imam discussed relations between the federal and regional governments, and the latter’s opposition to the government in Mogadishu.

“These state governments you see are not what they seem to be. It is tribal governments,” he says.

Somalia has five state governments, created under the country’s federal system, each maintaining their own police and security forces which have a degree of autonomy over their affairs, but are subject to the authority of the federal government.

Regional governments tend to oppose the federal government irrespective of who wields power in Mogadishu. Major clans lead each of these regional governments.

Sheikh Abdi urges Somalis to abandon clannism and work toward one Somalia.

“Our sister Ilhan Omar is fighting US President Donald Trump. Ilahn and Trump are at the same level. The US Constitution protects both of them,” he told a congregation at a mosque in Mogadishu.

“Ours is a system that no one understands. We do not have a clear path to follow. Why can’t we agree on a system that will guide us?”

“We’ve been doing this for the last 30 years, can we wait for another 30?” he posed.

Our system is like a person suffering from malaria and continues to take paracetamol drugs to relieve pain and reduce fever instead of going to see a doctor to seek medical care to eradicate the disease from his body, he says.

Although gains were made in the last few years, Somalia’s central government is still weak and wrangles between itself and the regional governments are a factor slowing down further progress.

Sheikh Abdi’s stories are now inspiring Somali communities around the world and they are being shared across dinner tables and mobile phone screens.

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