The Association

Circus Hargeisa - Somaliland

History Gallery Activities


Circus Dire Dawa's visit to Circus Hargeisa in Somaliland.

1 - 9 October 1998


 - To organize a joint performance with the 2 circuses
 - To further introduce the circus arts in Hargeisa, Somaliland
 - To strenghen the links between the 2 circuses
 - To organize a training and administrative exchange between the 2 circuses
 - To organize the first cultural exchange between the Ethiopia and Somaliland


Deress Lakew, Artistic Director of Circus Dire Dawa, Ethiopia 


Abdulkarim Moges, Director of Circus Hargeisa, Somaliland 


Description of the exchange

 - Following many telephone and fax communications between the 2 parties a date for the exchange was formally agreed for August 23, 1998. Unfortunatly the two parties could not meet each other in Hartichek as a confusion occured as to the meeting point in the town. The 2 parties returned to their homes and the trip was cancelled. Another attempt was planned for late September.

 - At last a  group of 3 children, the artistic director and the director of Circus Dire Dawa traveled to Hartichek, Ethiopia and were picked up by car by members of Havoyoco and traveled to Hargeisa, Somaliland on Tuesday 29 October with all necessary government permissions.

 -All funds needed for this exchange to be found within the Exchange budget provided for within the funds allocated to the CE Office for this purpose. Due to the timing of the event to coincide with the visit of the Novib representative and the visit of the Director of Circus In Ethiopia, funds were provided in cash by the Novib representative to be reimbursed by providing all receipts and deducting the amount from the next transfer to Addis Ababa.

 -The Dire Dawa group was lodged in a centrally located hotel while their food requirements were met at a restaurant nearby. A daily schedule was organized by Abdulkarim Moge, Director of Circus Hargeisa to allow the group to visit Hargeisa and to attend daily training with the Circus Hargeisa children every afternoon. During the stay many discussions were held on all topics related to the functionning of a circus. Topics such as circus training, administrative, reporting and networking issues were dicussed.
 Following the 7 day stay of Circus Dire Dawa in Hargeisa the following activities were achieved:


The joint performance of Friday October 2, 1998, Hargeisa 

 Held in a central location in Hargeisa more that 1,500 people attended with great admiration. The show consisted of Circus Hargeisa's circus acts and dramas on the value of peace in a community and the role of the police as a protection for the people. Dressed in traditional Somali costumes andperfomito recorded Somali music the circus children amazed the audience with their abilities .Their dramas were very well received and cheered. As a second part the three children and the artistic director of Circus Dire Dawa performed parts of their show to a spellbound audience. Their acts of gymnastics, juggling and hand to hand caused great excitement since never before had anyone seen such acts in Somaliland. The event was unique as well since the Dire Dawa group is the first group of foreign artists to travel to Somaliland in living memory. The Minister of Culture, in an enthousiastic speech after the show expressed his governments support to the circus phenomena and as well appreciated the visit of the Ethiopians stating that the fact that this show could be held at all showed the extent ofthe stability of the country (Somaliland) . He welcomed as well the Ethiopians as brothers. The performance wes filmed by Somaliland TV and broadcast in its entirety 3 times that night following an overwhealming interest from the viewers in Hargeisa. 
          Celebrating peace: Circus Hargeisa circus drama

The joint performance of Wednesday October 7, 1998, Hargeisa 

A second performance was held near the Havoyoco compound. Requested and financed by Negat, a women's organisation, the show was held on short notice to take advantage of the presence of Circus Dire Dawa in Somaliland. As a first part of the programme a girls and boys chorus presented a series of songs on peace and the role of women . The songs were very well received and cheered by the audience which was mostly composed of women, small children and students coming back from school. Very few men were present as the afternoon hour is reserved for chewing chat. The circus show by Circus Hargeisa and Circus Dire Dawa were also very well received as the one last Friday. The same messages on Peace and the importance of the Police in the community were presented and well received. 
A chorus of girls
Gabile Town schools were closed
by the mayor's orders to allow all youths
to attend the show

The joint performance of Thursday, October 8, 1998, Gabile
(50km from Hargeisa) 

Following a last minute invitation from the mayor of Gabile, the schedule was modified for the Circus Dire Dawa and Circus Hargeisa groups. Being the last day of the Dire Dawa group's visit, it was agreed to hold the show in Gabile since this town is on the way to the border with Ethiopia. The Hargeisa circus children were given permission from their school and early in the morning the convoy of 2 cars and a bus made their way across the desert to Gabile who has, as all Somaliland towns and cities been badly affected by the war. Upon arrival we were greeted by the mayor who informed us that the local schools had beed closed as to allow all youths of the city to attend the performance. The performance was greeted with great interest and applause. At the conclusion of the show the Minister of Culture and the Mayor of Gabile gave fiery speeches about the benefit of the circus for the youth and that  all should be done to establish a circus in Gabile as a leadership for the youth and as an action against the debilitating effects of chat on the youth. The mayor publicly promised to the population that this would be done. In later discussions with the Director of Circus Hargeisa and Circus Ethiopia,  it was agreed that contacts should be maintained to work on way to bring trainers to Gabile from Hargeisa of Dire Dawa. The mayor made it clear that the city would bear the expenses. A group of Gabile youths made themselves known at the end of the performance by performing gymnastics and notably by doing a backward summersault blindfolded from a 4 meter high wall. These youths already work together as a group and would be the ones benefiting from te training. 

Training sessions.

 Every afternoon the children of Dire Dawa with their trainer worked with the Hargeisa team to share their knowlege and skills. Specific skills on juggling, gymnastics, pyramid building, proper warm up procedures were taught to the 25+ members of Circus Hargeisa group. Discussions took place to adress stage management and job description issues. A total of 5 training sessions were completed. The trainer of Circus Dire Dawa expresed satisfaction at the progress of the youths in the short time available. Still the idea of a Circus Hargeisa trainer coming to Dire Dawa for some weeks was emphasized since no one in Hargeisa has had any formal gymnastics let alone circus training.

Meetings of administrators

 A series of meetings were held between the Director of Circus Hargeisa, the Executive Director of Havoyoco, the Director of Circus Dire Dawa, the Director of Circus in Ethiopia and the Novib representative. Various topics were addressed in order to share experience and to strenghen the relationship between the four entities. Here is a description of some of the discussions:

Reporting: Due to the complicated nature of reporting for Circus Hargeisa to the Addis Ababa office ( receipts in Somali, the lack of businesses who hold legal receipts, the problems of communication between the 2 countries), it was decided that receipts would be accounted for in Hargeisa while a summary of expenses would be faxed on to Addis Ababa. On a yearly basis an auditor's certificate on this accounting will be sent to Addis. All receipts previously sent to Addis are to be returned to Hargeisa to be accounted for and audited. Since there is a difficulty in locating registered auditors in Somaliland, the  annual summary for Circus Hargeisa will be temporarely aproved by the Board of Directors of Havoyoco until an auditor can be found and hired. The cost of the auditor to be found within the circus budget.

Cooperation between Dire Dawa and Hargeisa: It was agreed that frequent contacts between the two circuses should be encouraged in order to increase the capacity of both groups. One of the trainers from Hargeisa will travel 2 weeks to Dire Dawa for training in stage management and circus skills. Within approximatly 6 months a tour of Circus Dire Dawa is to be organised in Hargeisa and other Somaliland cities. Funds for this event to be found from other sources than the circus budget. International organisations in Somaliland and Ethiopia to be aproached for this purpose. The Minister of Culture has already expressed interest in the project and full cooperation from the Somaliland authorities can be expected. In the future, once Circus Hargeisa has achieved a suitable level, a performance tour will be organised in Dire Dawa and other cities in Eastern Ethiopia.

Relationship with Circus In Ethiopia (CE): It was agreed that the two circuses should strive towards an increasing independence, financial and otherwise, from the CE main office while still maintaining strong cooperation and exchange links with the Branches of CE. This being in the spirit of the original agreement with CE to act an advisor for the growth of these two circuses. In this respect Circus Dire Dawa is looking to establish itself as an Association with the competent authorities which will allow it to raise funds and run its activities in a self reliant way.

Participation of girls in Circus Hargeisa: The traditional view of what girls can achieve in Somaliland society has hampered the inclusion of girls in Circus Hargeisa up to now. It has been planned to go about including girls in a carefull way as to retain the respect and support of the community. First the novel idea of circus needs to be introduced to the population as to be seen as a positive force for the youth in Hargeisa. The next step will be to introduce girls in the circus in activities such as pyramids, juggling using appropriate clothes according to the culture's requirements. From this writer's observations this topic is a controversial one which can be addressed with time and needs to be dealt with in a culturally sensitive way as not to endanger the existence of the circus itself as a tool of change in Somaliland.

Use and handling of circus materials: In view of the growing stock of materials owned by the circuses including sound equipment and generator in an upcoming shipment, discussions were held as to the best way to maintain and care for these. It was agreed that all materials were under the responsibility of the Circus Director and that the use of the equipment should be reserved solely for circus activities. The equipment should not be rented out as this would increase the wear and tear. Owing to the very scarce repair facilities in Hargeisa and Dire Dawa it was decided that it would be best not to create even precedents to this decision as to make it clear to the community that the equipment, notably the sound ssystem and generator are not available for rent under any circumstance. Exceptions to this rule were identified: When organizations who are working closely with the circus request the use of the circus materials these can be made available for their official use. In this case the material should be loaned without rent but with all charges related to the loan paid for by the organization requesting. The equipment should as well be loaned with a circus technician who will handle the equipment at all times. This technician's expenses ( such as food or accomodation) for the time of the loan should be carried by the organization.

Internal communication matters: Discussions were held to establish in a clear way the various responsibilities within the circus. The role of the artistic director was a major point. In view of the artistic nature of the circus it was established that the artistic director needs to be consulted and needs to aprove all matters relating to the activities within or around a performance. This is necessary since he is the focus of the children who perform and knows their ability and capacity more that other circus staff. He is as well responsible for the artistic integrity of the performance and ultimatly the one who will insure that the audiences are satisfied and supportive of the circus. Any interference in this role can be catastrophic to the reputation of the circus. The circus' ability to gather large audiences can be seen as an attractive means for other parties to propagate their ideas. Although it is a goal of the circus to be a vehicle for new ideas these should be  restricted to  non-sectarian, non-political, and non-religious concepts. Health matters, community improvement issues, children's issues and women's issues should be dealt with as to allow the circus to fulfill its role as an agent of change within society. Still it should remain with the aristic director to choose the topics and and the nature of the message performed within the performance as to maintain the support of all segments of the society and of the parents of the performing children as well.

Future Plans

During this exchange period many opportunities have presented themselves. The shows have increased the reputation of Circus Hargeisa in the Hargeisa community and within the Somaliland Government officials. The circus has been described by all parties as a very positive phenomena for many reasons. The circus has been praised as an instrument increasing stability in the country, an alternative to chat use for the youth, as a powerful medium for carrying messages about peace and community improvement and many other influences. The Minister of Culture Mr. Ali Areye, has personally taken up the challenge of finding ways of touring the circus in different parts of Hargeisa and even Somaliland. The President, His Excellency, Mr. Egal is supportive of the the work of the circus and has praised the initiative of Circus Dire Dawa's visit in Hargeisa. Following discussions with Havoyoco and the Ministry of Culture about the future of the circus it has been agreed that Circus Dire Dawa should be invited in early 1999 to tour Somaliland to further propagate the ideals of circus for the youth in Somaliland. Efforts to finance this initiative will be supported by the Ministry.

Circus Dire Dawa and Circus Hargeisa have pledged to improve the communication between the two groups to allow the exchange of experience to continue. A trainer from Hargeisa will travel to Dire Dawa for a period of two weeks to train in circus skills and stage management.

On the administrative side Circus Hargeisa will have its financial documents audited locally. This changes the plan presented in the original proposal to send all receipts in Addis Ababa at the CE Head Office for accounting.


The visit of Sircus Dire Dawa to Hargeisa, Somaliland has proven to be very succesful in all respects. Three performances were held to an estimated 5,000 people in two cities. One of the shows was broadcast in its entirety through Somaliland TV. In this respect the concept of circus was further introduced to Somaliland.

The adults and children of both circuses had many occasions to work together. The youths trained and performed many times together. The adults discussed daily at every opportunity on the potential of their partnership between Ethiopia and Somaliland. Many resolutions were taken to increase the links between the two groups.

As this visit happened to be the first visit in Hargeisa of foreign artists in living memory, much interest was created in the population. Plans for a future tour of Circus Dire Dawa in Somaliland was discussed with many partners including the President of Somaliland.

Overall all participants in this exchange expressed great satisfaction and pleasure in making this meeting a success. All members of the community, from the people in the street to the officials expressed as well their interest and enthusiasm at the continuation our work and offering their support for the future.

Prepared by Marc La Chance, Director, Circus In Ethiopia