Charisma is a God given gift. You either have it or you don’t. It is a mysterious ineffable quality that has the ability to attract, charm, and influence other people.
Muna Axmed possesses this rare gift. She hails from Hargeisa which is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Somaliland, a self-declared state that is internationally recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia.
When I met Muna at President Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative, I was quickly drawn to her charm, beauty and smartness. Men usually talk about beauty and brains and I think this lady has both tripled compounded.
Tell us a little bit about your background in a snap shot- education, career history and where you are now.
I grew up in Hargeisa which is the home of poets, entrepreneurs and scholars. I studied what I loved, Applied Science and Somali literature and Creative Writing from the University Of Hargeisa and graduated in 2014. I also have a diploma in Human Development.
Growing up , I was a very curious girl. I was surrounded by lots of creativity. We had numerous cave paintings from the Neolithic period which are found in the Laas Geel complex, on the outskirts of Hargeisa.
We had a lot of camels, still do and if you did not find me trying to suck milk straight from the camel, you would find me trying to squeeze myself in the middle of adults eating camel meat and especially the hump or drinking camel milk which is very healthy by the way.
I mean, I liked being respected and listening to old tales and current affairs and if it took forcing my way in to old people’s gatherings, I had to.
I am now a full time writer and a youth activist. I started a few years ago with the writing and when I would tell people that I am in to it, most of them did not believe me, I mean, they did not understand how a quiet sweet little cute girl could write (She bursts out laughing).
Have you encountered many challenges being a woman in the industry?
When I first shared my fictional stories, they were always unexpectedly captivating to the audience. This caught my community by surprise and they really appreciated my work.
My work mainly focuses on community issues and raising awareness on Khat, tribalism, youth immigration and so on.
I have won three creative writing competitions and this gave me momentum to continue sharing serious matters and in a creative way with my community.
I published my first book in July 2014, Baadidoon: Which means “looking for” and it was also very well received. I am an active member of a writing club and a volunteer at Hargeisa International Book Fair ‘One of the biggest Book Festivals in East Africa’.
My community respects women and men equally and this has not been a challenge. I am encouraged because there are many women across Africa who are rising in to positions of influence and I feel there is room for many more.
My passion is to inspire young people to be patriotic, to love and embrace their roots and be a part of contributing to the growth of their respective countries.
I like that you mentioned your passion in mentoring young people. Please tell us more about that.
My fictional stories have engaged a lot of young people, I love meeting with them and they tell me that they allocate time to read my work and some of them have got in to writing as well.
Isn’t that amazing? We have many untold stories in this continent. We are the most richest when it comes to traditional culture, we must share and appreciate it.
My work has also helped trigger their sense of curiosity. When I first started publishing my stories on my personal blog, hundreds of people used to visit it each day.
I observed that I had unknowingly manufactured an opportunity to influence others. This led to my work being published.
I also do not limit myself to my culture only, I once wrote an article about the famous English Drama ‘Hamlet’ by the great English playwright and Poet Shakespeare after a performance that was held in Hargeisa early last year.
Where do you draw your main influences from?
Africa is my main muse: people, traditions, different cultures, history, flora etc. Anything that exudes creativity also does it for me.
You are quite famous at YALI. There is even a Muna song. Why is that?
Oh my goodness, Isn’t obvious. Everyone loves my name, it actually means beautiful or a unique flower. I also think there is a ring to it, don’t you? (She laughs and gives me a high five).
One day someone started singing “Muna..Muna..Muna..Muna” and the song stuck and has now become my name. (She bursts in to the Muna song).
Sorry, I love that Arabic tune with my name on it. I also love people and jokes and fun and dancing and laughing and…, okay I will tell you the next and, let’s continue.
Your advice for young African leaders out there?
Constantly equip yourself. Apply for opportunities. I am this far because of great determination and action. I know that right now being in YALI has changed my perspectives and I have made connections that will last forever with other African leaders.
Do not watch TV the whole day and say you are waiting for the government to create jobs, my friend, you are the government!
What’s next for you, and how can we see more of Muna Axmed?
Within the next ten years, I want to see the changes that I have made in my community come to fruition.
I also intend to help build a library in every village and city in Somaliland. I want to see a lot of young people who are making changes and influencing people because of me.
Please do tell of a funny/crazy/weird thing you have ever done?
I once wrote an article about the cockroaches!
Africa in three words?
Home of adventure, love and happiness.
Favourite food and why?
Chocolates! because they make me irrationally happy.