Archive for the ‘War Torn 2007’ Category

Circumstances beyond my control.

Friday, September 14th, 2007

To the disappointment of some and the relief of others, I’m ending this trip early.
Thus this now puts me back in Sydney in one piece as per usual.
Catch up with those that worry about me at some point.

Alice in wonderland, Carl in Somaliland.

Sunday, September 9th, 2007
Somali roadside litter

Following the collapse of the Somalia government in 1991 and the still continuing civil war, the Northwest region of Somaliland split off, formed it’s own government and established a constitution. This however was never recognised by any other country or the UN. The powers that be have basically been waiting for the day the war ends and everyone makes nice. They have been waiting 16 years so far. That same war left the fledgling unofficial nation of Somaliland with the obvious setbacks of having no recognition, no infrastructure, no financial system and it’s towns destroyed by war. Somaliland has some how managed to come out of all this and thrive at least by east African standards. For the first time on this trip I see a lot of paved roads, reliable electricity, good phone systems and internet. It’s still a poor county but there isn’t the striking levels of poverty you see in even neighboring counties that have a lot more going for them. There seems to be a sort of no-bullshit-lets-just-do-it attitude that prevails. There’s a refreshing lack of bureaucracy and surprisingly little corruption. Overall it’s an African success story

Somalia’s newest citizen

The biggest question I get when about Somaliland (or any part of Somalia for that matter) is, is it safe to go there? Well that’s a debatable point.
On one hand it seems safe enough. The people generally react with curiosity rather than hostility to see a foreigner in their country. The people are proud of the relative security of their un-recognised nation. Even the money changers on the street just sit there with huge piles of cash sitting on blankets with no security whatsoever (this could be because the largest denomination note is only worth about 8 cents US and thus you would need a wheel barrow to make off with any decent amount of booty). As a side note the money changes also provide the handy service of issuing Somali passports (yes i got one, yes I’m now a Somali citizen). In a country with no recognition within another country with no functional government this is one of the few ways for locals to obtain a passport.
On the other hand there is still the element of danger here. (my own government recommends you don’t even fly over this country let alone land here). The locals also insist that you have armed guards if you travel outside the capital, Hargeisa. Whether this is because of real threats of banditry or simply over protectiveness of the few visitors they get I’m not sure. None the less I got myself some very courteous AK47 wielding guards, a bunch of Khat (a leafy plant you chew, a mild amphetamine common to east Africa) and headed off into the country side.

The posse on the beach

The history of war is still very apparent as you travel the country. Mine fields still litter the sides of the roads alongside the remains of bombed out tanks. The tanks are generally left as they were as they are considered war memorials. Besides these attractions, Somaliland is also home to one of the most significant but least visited archaeological sites in east Africa. Lass Geel houses caves with some of the best preserved cave paintings dating back to 9,000 BC. Pre-dating any organised religion, the paintings depict the native nomads of the time worshiping cows decorated in ceremonial robes. Somehow these paining have survived the harsh desert and any number of civil wars intact. I’d have to say this is one of the more impressive sites I’ve come across. Everything is left as it was first discovered in 2002. No steps, no development, no hawkers selling souvenirs. Just me, my guide and guards standing in the caves in the middle of nowhere.
Along with some nice beaches, this is actually a nice place to visit.
See it before everyone else discovers it.

Sierra Leone in a nutshell.

Monday, September 3rd, 2007
Tropical paradise?

It’s an idilic tropical paradise. Well, at least it would be if you overlook the totally decimated infrastructure, the almost total lack of electricity, the roads with potholes big enough to loose a Datsun in (I was in that Datsun at the time) and the crushing level of poverty.
In real estate terms this is is what you call a renovators delight.
From a country where so many war atrocities happened you would expect much more animosity but it just doesn’t seem to be there. Even a few of those i spoke to who lost limbs or had broken bones don’t seem to care all that much. A few I met just sit on the beach, smoke dope and continue on. Anyone else would be forgiven for wanting revenge.

If you’re missing some military hardware, call Freetown

This is of course this is the extra tragedy of these sorts of places. It really has a lot going for it, the beaches are gorgeous and devoid of tourists, it’s warm, the people are friendly and despite it’s recent war torn history and some recent scuffles over the current elections, it’s more or less safe.
Anywhere else in the world and it would be packed with drunken tourists and postcard sellers. Any country with as much mineral and diamond wealth should be crammed with all the trapping of wealth.
So if you’re looking for a tropical getaway that isn’t swamped with tourists, is a little off the beaten track and could sorely do with your fat juicy dollars then Sierra Leone is for you.

Kono, Sierra Leone. Diamonds are who’s best friend exactly?

Saturday, September 1st, 2007
Renovators delight

I’m told the Kono diamond mining district of Sierra Leone was once a party town. The diamond wealth once brought with it streets lined with Mercedes and hookers. A decade of civil war however put paid to all that. Being the most valuable part of the country, this is the area that saw the most fighting. I’d like to say the burned out homes like the one pictured is the exception but unfortunately in the old town they are more the rule. None the less the town has been rebuild enough at least for the diamond mining to continue

Most of these photo’s are taken in an area still known as “little Lebanon”. Before the war, Kono was home to a lot of immigrant Lebanese miners. Most of them have gone now and taken their falafel with them. When war broke out, they mostly retreated to their safer and less war-torn homeland of Lebanon.
I’m not going to comment on the sad irony of this.

How da body? Body be fine.

Monday, August 27th, 2007
The pride of Russia in Sierra Leone

Apologies to those expecting a post earlier than this. Internet isn’t exactly easy to come across here.
After 41 hours, 3 flights and a rickety ex-soviet helicopter piloted by even ricketier ex-soviet pilots, I finally make it here, Freetown Sierra Leone. Freetown has one of the worlds largest harbours and unfortunately the airport is on the other side of it to the city. Thus you only have two options to get to the city; the ferry (a couple of hours but safe) or the helicopter (a couple of minutes but a bit more hair raising). Being me, I of course opted for the helicopter. It was one of these same helicopters that crashed a few moths ago killing a good number on board. I’d like to say they’ve have improved since then. Upon landing I could see the pilot waggling the controls and muttering something in Russian. Clearly he was not impressed with the handling of his craft
None the less I’m here in one piece. For those who worry about me I’d say now is the time to stop but the above probably doesn’t inspire confidence. Think I might take the ferry back.

War-torn countries beginning with “S”

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Next adventure begins August 27 2007.
Last year I traveled to some of the worlds more obscure and sometimes foolhardy destinations (Chernobyl kind of freaked people out). Behind this was one rather simple hypothesis. To paraphrase myself:

“The world is not as bad as it’s made out to be, and if it is, I’m perfectly able to handle it”

Some of the more odd reactions to that ill-advised adventure were along the lines of “Gee Carl, Why don’t you just go to Baghdad, or how about (insert name of high profile American led war)”
Yeah well, when has any of this been to anywhere high profile? That said, it does raise some interesting questions. What of all those forgotten war zones politely ignored by the rest of the world? (There have been over 60 armed conflicts since the 90’s) What are they like? For that matter who can even name more than a hand full of them? Even picking a letter of the alphabet to begin with makes a worryingly long list. Clearly I’ve done just that.
Thus I’ll be heading to a few of Africa’s neglected war zones, past and present, to see what they’re really like.
So here they are, they’ve been given a bad rap, dire travel warnings and strangely they all begin with “S”

Photo: Peter Lockyer

Destination #1 – Sierra Leone.
map and Wikipedia article

Now out of its long running civil war, this country is more know for
conflict diamonds than tourism (at least partly due to the Hollywood
movie “Blood Diamond”). Despite its rather nasty history, Sierra Leone is now more or less peaceful. Even right now having its first free elections since the peacekeepers left in 2002.


Photo: najeeb

Destination #2 – Somaliland
unofficial map and wikipedia article

Don’t bother looking this one up in your old high school jacaranda atlas. Technically it doesn’t exist.
After the 1991 collapse of Somalia, Somaliland declared its independence, set up a government, established a constitution and printed a currency. None of this however was noticed by the rest of the world. As far as anyone is concerned, it is still part of Somalia and unfortunately shares it’s rather bad travel warnings

Photo: US DOD

Destination #3 – Somalia’s Capital, Mogadishu.

Map and Wikipedia article

Here’s where it gets interesting. The topic of the very one sided and occasionally inaccurate move “Black Hawk Down”, Mogadishu has been invaded more times than most can count. Since 1991 there has been over a dozen attempts at peace. All have failed.
Over the the last few years alone this patch of dirt has been fought over by Ethiopia, the TFG, the ICU and any number of Somali Clans

As per usual, this whole thing will be played out as it happens right here. Fell free to Sign up to the news letter or leave a comment.