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Published: January 2nd 2012
You live in Somalia where law and order is collapsing around you, a country where warlords and terrorists preach hate against your moderate values and beliefs. A country consumed by war and piracy in which you want no part, a country failing to provide the basic services that you need. Crippled by corruption and poverty, you look for a way out, a distant land rising from the rubble, a shining light amidst the political darkness, a glimmer of hope in the horn of Africa. That future is Somaliland.
Mogadishu is the corrupt capital for the failed state of Somalia, a place where pirates and terrorists rule. The Fund for Peace has ranked Somalia number one according to its ‘Failed States Index’. Yet to the north, the breakaway region of Somaliland is stable and at peace. Un-recognized internationally for its success, Somaliland has a stable political system, police force, government institutions, banks and its own currency.
Attempting to independently enter the country of Somaliland on a tourist visa is a surreal experience. Learning that the UK foreign office fails to recognize Somaliland as an independent country is confusing. Realizing that it advises ‘against all travel’ to Somalia, invalidating your travel
insurance policy the harsh reality of adventurous travel.
Arriving at the Somaliland boarder you nervously had over your passport and papers. With tourist visa #807, it soon becomes clear that only Non-Government Organizations, United Nations Officers and the most adventurous travelers are prepared to cross the desolate and uninviting boarder.
As you are stopped at each military check point, your passport and papers are inspected by armed officials. With the knowledge that there is no British Embassy in the country, you nervously answer each question with an uneasy smile. Feeling interrogated on your political affiliation and personal beliefs, you are eventually given the all clear to continue.
“Over a billion people live in countries that are in danger of collapse. Some leaders lose control over their territory and cling to their capitals while warlords rule the provinces. Many governments are unable or unwilling to provide the most basic of services. Most are hobbled by corruption and environmental degradation. Such unstable states are dangers not just to themselves but also to the whole world” (Robert Draper, National Geographic, September 2009)
Yet Somaliland feels different. It feels safe. Security check points occupy the roads. Every soldier meets you
with a smile. Every resident stops to talk. The safety of travelers daring to visit the country is taken seriously. The United Nations is held with high regard. Each citizen understands foreign investment must succeed in order to achieve independence from Somalia. You soon find yourself treated like a celebrity followed by curious fans, reaching out to introduce themselves and shake your hand.
Yet not everyone feels the same. “Those who oppose the independence of Somaliland are a repressed voice” says Abdul, a Somali taxi driver “Mogadishu is coming; the Great War will reunite Somalia, crushing Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, British Somaliland, and Italian Somalia, regaining the lost territories and reuniting Somalia as represented by our national flag”.
Rewarded by the sweet taste of being off the beaten trail you experience a unique culture and way of life witnessed by few westerners, nonexistent elsewhere in Africa. As the call to prayer echoes across the cities, you explore the dusty streets and colorful markets. While everyone appears to be working towards a common purpose, you quickly feel comfortable drifting in-between battered vehicles and mule-drawn carts, taking in the chaotic streets while desperately avoiding the unattended goats and suicidal donkeys that
rule the dirty streets.
As you pass Muslim women wearing elegant head scarves, you stop and stare at the colorful hairstyles and unusual jewelry that form the identity of the Somali people. While men trade camels, women trade goats and other livestock. As children play football in the street, young men sit in dens chewing Khat, talking about Premier League Football, taking the edge off the harsh reality of African life.
“Khat consumption induces mild euphoria and excitement. Individuals become very talkative under the influence with effects similar to an amphetamine-like substance. An estimated 10 million people globally use it on a daily basis where chewing has a long history as a social custom dating back thousands of years” (Wikipedia, December 2011)
Amazed to see money changers casually leave billions of shillings at the side of the street; you question how this is at all possible? “Sharia Law” replies Mohammed a professional Money Changer “Crime is dealt with by the community. Criminals face the most serious of consequences in African Muslim society. Theft is dealt with by a public beating… Crime is low… You should seriously consider becoming a Muslim”
As you wonder in and out
of shops filled with smuggled contraband and fake designer clothes, it’s a relief to find a Nestle Kit Kat sitting in a refrigerator. As you leave the shop, you get kicked in the ass by an anti-western Somali for being a foreigner. You soon bare witnessing to mob rule in action as an official carrying an AK47 initiates a public beating in the name of law and order.
Gaining confidence in Somaliland you head out of the capital towards Las Geel. An ancient archeological site containing some of the world’s oldest rock paintings. With no barriers and not another tourist insight, you wonder around pristine images of the past, climbing over ancient rocks and taking in the stunning views. While your body guard carelessly scrapes his AK47 over archeological treasures, you hand over 2000 shillings to the guide for his successful translation of the words “Goat, Donkey, Cow, Man, Woman”, a conclusion you could have drawn yourself.
The thought of reaching the coast of Somalia would be enough to scare those that do not identify Somaliland as an independent country. Yet the costal town of Berbera is beginning to thrive as a viable port for land locked Ethiopia,
reigniting a lost economy and regenerating the town. With excellent beaches and unpolluted sea, it is possible to dive along the un-chartered Somali seabed or chill out on an empty beach, watching dolphins jumping from the sea.
“Why does Somaliland, with all its success, not receive support from the international community, while Somalia receives all the aid and never makes any success?” (Daahir Rayaala Kaahin, Somaliland President, 2009)
<> How To Get There
The Somaliland visa is available in Addis Ababa. The embassy is located just off Bole Road, located just before the Madagascar Embassy. Travel in a Bajaj; it’s quite a distance from the Piazza. The visa costs $30USD and is available within one hour. You will require 1 passport photograph and yellow fever certificate. Payment is accepted in US Dollars only.
1. No airlines fly between Ethiopia (Addis) and Somaliland (Hargesia)
2. In Ethiopia, catch a local bus from Harar to Jijiga
3. In Ethiopia, then catch another local bus from Jijiga to Wajaala
4. Check out of Ethiopia at the immigration office/hut on the left
5. Walk across the dusty desolate no-mans land
6. Check in at the Somaliland immigration office/hut on
7. Catch a shared taxi into Hargasia for 8USD each or a private taxi for $50USD.
You don’t need an armed guard on this road. Expect to get stopped a dozen times by security check points.
It’s a surprisingly simple and hassle free boarder.
Note: If you are a self drive overlander, the desert road is confusing with tracks heading every direction. Request assistance from the immigration office until you reach the sealed road heading towards Hargesia.
Once in Somaliland, you will require a new visa to return to Ethiopia. In Hargesia you will first have to visit the Somaliland embassy to get an official letter requesting an Ethiopian visa on your behalf. You then need to take this letter over to the Ethiopian embassy to process your visa. Expect this process to take half a day with an extra hour locating the well hidden embassies. Start early, the embassy’s close by mid day!
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