When someone mentions Somaliland – others say Somali-what? In most mind’s Somalia is a mess. Terrorists. Pirates. Kidnapping gangs. Yeah it’s dangerous territory for lone foreigners – in the regions of Puntland and Somalia – centered around Mogadishu – but in the far north of Somalia is the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland.
While unrecognised by the international community (except Ethiopia), Somaliland has been independent – and safe, since 1991. They have their own government, army, and currency. In the capital Hargiesa, electricity, water and internet are reliable.
Business is booming thanks to 1000s of diaspora Somalilanders investing funds from abroad (I met them from the USA, Canada, England, all here on holiday, during August).
Hitching across the city with a Somalilander from Holland, he posed the question: “How do you find Hargeisa?” … before I could answer he added, “Fucked up?” … (It’s true that the streets are dusty and congested, construction hap-hazard, that some officials were moronic – and corrupt: like the Tourism officer trying to sell me permits that I didn’t need – or the aggressive security guard at the Ethiopian Laision Office that was stoned out of his mind by 9 AM; he wouldn’t let me inside, until I persisted … but these incidents are not typical.) However he said, because he was disapora and percieved as a rich foreigner, everybody expected money and gifts from him to get anything done.
Somaliland is a functioning, developing, peaceful state. A fact that people are fast to tell you often, delivering a friendly monologue – so that no visitor can mistake where they are. Variations of the following are frequent: We are Somaliland. We are not Somalia. We are at peace. There’s no terrorists here. You are welcome to free Somaliland.
In Hargeisa, greetings and questions are constant (although there’s still the odd snarl at the sight of a foreigner with camera). On the other hand some veiled women in the street, said Good Morning or Welcome to Somaliland.
Somaliland is a conservative Islamic state following the Sunni tradition. The ban on alcohol is enforced strictly. Instead a popular subsititute is Qat – a bitter-tasting narcotic leaf that males across the region love to chew, for hours at nearly anytime of the day, but afternoons become mandatory sessions.
So what’s there to see in Hargeisa? Well, nothing really. It’s just the vibe. The place. I didn’t get around to visiting the camel market (too busy shuttling around getting various travel permits and armed escort for a trip beyond the city).
Maybe the only true “sight” in Hargeisa is a monument of a Somali Air Force MiG fighter – downed over the city – commemorating the civil war when the forces of Somali’s last recognised leader, socialist Mohammad Siad Barre, bombed the city.
Following his fall in 1991, Somaliland (formerly a British colony and only united with the rest of Somali in 1960) declared independence. Meantime the south of Somali – centred around Mogadishu – plunged into fierce inter-clan warfare spanning two decades and today the violence continues in the form of an Islamic insurgency (Al Sahbab) and criminal gangs.
Somaliland is one predominate clan, the Isaq, and hence has been spared such conflict.