Hargeisa, the phoenix of the Horn of Africa

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March 9th 2007
Published: March 9th 2007
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Hargeisa downtownHargeisa downtownHargeisa downtown

A view of the downtown - west side from the top of Barwaqo Hotel
Hargeisa is the main city and capital of Somaliland. Unlike the coastal towns, such as Berbera and Zeilah, which are at least 2,000 years old, Hargeisa is a new town. Before it was made the capital of the British Protectorate of Somaliland in the 1920s, Hargeisa used to be a caravan stop between the high plateau and the coastal towns. Its main attribute then was the availability of water from the bed of its river (wadi), which is dry except in rainy weather. The wadi is locally known as 'maroodi-jeeh' (elephant digs), as elephants used to dig holes in its middle to get to the water in the dry season. (Unluckily, the elephants have long vanished in this corner of the world.)

The town went through rapid development up to the 1988 when it was completely (about 90 per cent) destroyed by the government of Siad Barre. As a matter of fact, jet fighters would take off from Hargeisa airport only to drop their deadly bombs in the center of the town. Such was the destruction of the town that it was described in the following words by a visitor who saw it after it was liberated from Siad
Hargeisa downtownHargeisa downtownHargeisa downtown

A view of the downtown - west side from the top of Barwaqo Hotel
Barre's forces in 1991:

x00The Cessna, rented by UN staff in neighboring Djibouti, pulls up by an empty
control tower speckled with bullet holes. At the runwayx00s end, three Pakistani-made
military jets are gathering dust. Three years ago, they bombed Hargeisa out of the 20th
century. x00Have you ever seen Pompeii?x00 a UN official had said to me in Djibouti. x00Thatx00s
Hargeisa now. Only it wasnx00t a volcano that destroyed the place x00 it was man.

Long Ago, in the 1980s, Hargeisa had more than 150,000 residents. A Mecca for traders, it was the second-largest city in Somalia, and the biggest in the northern region. That region ... declared independence in May under the name Republic of Somaliland. Hargeisa is its capital city. But it's a capital with a difference: no electricity, no telephones, no offices and no running water. Little food, little medicine, little shelter.
And not very many roofs.x00 Mark Abley, "Fighting for Survival," The Gazette (Montreal), "December 14, 1991, p. e1.

Today, Hargeisa has been largely rebuilt, although the signs of destruction are visible at some places. Like the mythical Phoenix, it has risen out of the ashes larger than ever. Today,
Hargeisa downtownHargeisa downtownHargeisa downtown

A view of the downtown - southwest side from the top of Barwaqo Hotel
it has about a million inhabitants, as immigrants from all over the Horn have flocked to it in search jobs and better life. It is a testament to the will of the people of Somaliland, who have rebuilt their homes and lives, in the face of much indifference from the rest of the world.


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