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.

Looking from my hotel roof-top in the downtown at dusk

Looking from my hotel roof-top in the downtown at dusk

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.

Currency vendors with plied cash in public. You need loads of local currency - better to just use US cash and recieve change back in shillings

Currency vendors with piled cash in public. You need loads of local currency – better to use US cash (no intr. ATMs) and recieve change back in shillings

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).

At the market: women ... and shoes

At the market: women … and shoes

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.

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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.

Some traces of history remain in the downtown - like this Ottoman Turk house; now mineral water warehouse. Maybe one day, a boutique tourist hotel?

Some traces of history remain in the downtown – like this Ottoman Turkish house; now a mineral water warehouse. Maybe one day, a boutique tourist hotel?

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.

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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.

The MiG monument

The MiG monument

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).

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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.

Woman washing tie-dye garments; some women here dress intensely colorful

Woman washing tie-dye garments; some women here dress intensely colorful

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.

Life seems to be passing this qat-chewer by; modern vehicles and university courses by-pass the past ear of conflict at this tacky monument (this is not a real tank!)

Life seems to be passing this qat-chewer by; modern vehicles and university courses by-pass the past era of conflict at this tacky monument (no, this is not a real tank!)

Somaliland is one predominate clan, the Isaq, and hence has been spared such conflict.

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