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
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 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.