Somalia (Somaliland)

30 January 2014

Somaliland has some of the world's best prehistoric paintings. Just discovered in 2002, outcroppings at Laas Geel shelter this art from perhaps 9,000 years ago.

Featured mostly are long-horned cattle, some with (ceremonial?) stripped shawls, plus a few people, dogs, giraffe ― often massed in colors, shapes, and designs in ways that look as modern as prehistoric. Amazing to see in rock alcoves all of this art painted so many millennia ago.

On the outskirts of Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, is a daily livestock market, mainly camels, sheep, goats. Buyers and sellers were more interesting to watch.

By the luck of encountering the right person at the right time, I was able to witness a vigorous debate in the Somaliland Senate (House of Elders). See photo below. We were the only two people in the small gallery. Some argued that Somaliland should have taken a much harder line in the latest negotiations with Somalia just concluded in Ankara. Refreshing to see free parliamentary debate.
Intense debate in the Somaliland House of Elders (1/25/14)

Somaliland Flag
Somaliland, a self-governing breakaway region of Somalia, is seeking international recognition as an independent country. They ask: Why South Sudan and Kosovo but not us? Why force us into union with the disastrously failed state of Somalia?

Somaliland has an elected, multi-party parliament; issues its own visas and license plates; runs its own police, courts, military; and does all the other things ordinary countries do ― except it has no UN seat and no external recognition of sovereignty.

In colonial days, this was "British Somaliland." French Somaliland stayed separate, becoming Djibouti. But, British Somaliland was merged with chaotic Italian Somaliland (including big Mogadishu) to make Somalia.

Other scenes from around Hargeisa (with 1.2 million of Somaliland's 4 million people)...

The main monument has one of the MiGs that had bombed Hargeisa during the civil war in the late 1980s. Much of the city was destroyed. However, Hargeisa has been rebuilt and Somaliland has been relatively peaceful during the civil strife of the 1990s and 2000s that enveloped Mogadishu and south Somalia.

Viewing sprawling Hargeisa with one of our AK-47 guys nearby just as a precaution.

Left:  Daily fix of khat, the chewable narcotic loved by so many men around the horn of Africa.
Right:  "Bricks" of Somaliland shillings in a wheelbarrow.

Young women doing traditional Somali songs and dances.

A family of handsome gerenuk antelope strolled around the hotel compound.

Somalia, even with Somaliland, is ranked as one of the world's poorest countries, so I was not surprised by the poor areas of Hargeisa. But, I was surprised by the number of middle-class and well-to-do neighborhoods around town. Thanks to more stability plus investment from the diaspora, I assume that Hargeisa is much better off than the Mogadishu area.
Travels into the hinterland around Hargeisa...

Compared to Hargeisa, the port of Berbera seems not to have recovered as much from the bombings and civil wars...

On two of my five days, I joined eleven easy-going, veteran travelers from Canada, Germany, Sweden, Spain, the UK, and the US. As you'd guess, these very knowledgeable individuals had really been just about everywhere.

But I was not with them when the Toyota died.

Beautiful sunset, except that...
  • The Land Cruiser had just broken down;
  • We were between Hargeisa and Borama with no town in sight;
  • Stranded on a road after dark was not on my itinerary.

As it got dark fast, without an easy fix for the 4x4, we hitchhiked. The first car that came along stopped and two fine local men gave me (and my AK-47 guy) a ride to my hotel in Hargeisa. No worries.

But even the British Foreign Office strongly discourages travel to Somaliland (as well as all of Somalia).

I cannot honestly say I had no anxiety while I was here, but I had a fascinating five days and most people were welcoming. If you are truly adventurous, contact Undiscovered Destinations in London and tell Mark that Bill sent you.