Somaliland is not Somalia

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December 25th 2013
Saved: June 2nd 2021
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It is one of the least visited tourist destinations in the world. The mostly empty Ethiopian Airlines flight contained just one other fellow traveller as our small plane uneasily bobbled to its destination of Hargeisa in Somaliland. Passing through immigration and collecting luggage was relatively easy and I was soon in a taxi bouncing along rough roads of a city in the horn of Africa. The scene before me was exactly as I had imagined – dust and dirt was kicked up by the passing traffic, and when it parted, I could espy men sitting out the front of whitewashed walls, sipping a hot beverage and chatting beneath the warm sun. Children gambolled in the side streets amongst small squat homes with flat roofs, whilst the colour to this scene was added by the vibrant hues of the hijabworn by the women who were more visible on the streets than I had expected.

This journey was inspired by Stuart whose 2008 journey to Somaliland, My second home, piqued my interest in this destination that had it sitting of my wish list for years. However, the final impetus came from Jonas of Jonas Journeys – his second of three Somaliland blogs detailing his travels in 2013, convinced me that the same safe and welcome environment that greeted Stuart five years before was still awaiting my arrival.

Many people question the safety of some destinations I travel, but experience has taught me that the most accurate information is not the media, government advisories or people who rely on either of these sources, but instead locals and fellow travellers. Both Stuart and Jonas informed me that Somaliland was safe, but I discovered that not only is Somaliland free from danger, but it is one of the safest and friendliest destinations I have ever visited.

The most obvious manifestation of this secure environment was the money changers. Lining the streets in one part of the Hargeisa, men reclined in chairs behind walls of cash, and they carried no weapons or any other protection from theft. Even more remarkable were those tasked with loading wheelbarrows full of money for lodging elsewhere. The amount of Somaliland Shillings sitting with each moneychanger was worth thousands of dollars, which when converted to the local cost of living is an absolute fortune. Nearby, women sold gold in the street, only covered to protect the jewellery from the ubiquitous dirt, and again there was no form of protection afforded these goods. The female stall owners could even leave the gold unattended and knew that everything would be untouched upon their return. I have never witnessed such a potent display of public safety anywhere else in the world.

I could comfortably walk around the streets at any time of day or evening and never felt threatened. The only incidents that occurred were the occasional (mostly older) men suspicious of foreigners and especially my camera, with one claiming that I was from the CIA. Another instructed me that I needed a permit to take photos, so when I challenged his false assertion, he accused me of all manner of preposterous actions, at which time other sane Somalilanders dragged him away so that I could once again enjoy the streets of Hargeisa free from hassle.

With alcohol prohibited in Somaliland, there was never any danger of being approached by an aggressive drunk, but the drug of choice was khat – and it was more endemic than in Yemen – green coloured stalls could be found literally everywhere. This was the biggest social problem I saw in Somaliland, and it turned a good portion of the male population into vague, listless individuals. As with any society where a drug, whether alcohol, cigarettes or khat, is integral to social interaction, it is an issue that must be addressed.

My accommodation of choice (also frequented by Stuart and Jonas) was the Oriental Hotel – perfectly located to immerse myself within the surrounding market, where the hospitality that greeted me approached the overwhelming levels bestowed in the Kurdish Region of Iraq. I sallied forth; the sounds of the streets from car horns, people chatting and music closed in on me from all sides, as the occasional breeze swirled the dirt from the unpaved roads. Every few steps I was greeted by someone saying hello and inviting me for a chat, tea or meal. Almost every conversation followed the same line of questions: “Where are you from?” “Do you like Hargeisa?” “What is your job?” and “What is your name?” Even a brief stroll through the market that would only take me half an hour if I was allowed an uninterrupted passage, occupied half a day due to this generous, genuine hospitality. I spent many hours talking and listening to the people of Somaliland tell their tales, which revealed two recurring themes. First, Somalilanders are the proudest people I have ever met, but the second issue is far more significant.

I initially glimpsed this second issue when squatting with money changers during my usual morning conversation session when a elderly man wearing what appeared to be a dark uniform sauntered forth:
“You should not stay here long, it is dangerous for you,” he stated.
“Why it is dangerous, I have been here many days with no problems,” I questioned.
“These people will cause you problems,” was his assertion.
“They are my friends.” I gestured to them with a sweeping motion, “they have only shown my kindness. I cannot see any danger,” I challenged.
“No, no, believe me, this is not safe for you,” and he walked away as abruptly as he appeared, melting into the crowd.
I turned to one of the moneychangers, Baashe, and asked, “What is he talking about?” to which he responded with disdain, “Don’t listen to him – he is from Somalia”.

“Somaliland is not Somalia” was an oft quoted statement during my nearly two weeks there, and the roots for this confusion lay in another instance of misguided colonial ambitions. A hundred years ago the British administered Somaliland, with the rest of the horn of Africa split into French (now known as Djibouti) Ethiopia (territory originally incorporated into Ethiopia, though now further separated into Eritrea) and Italy (present day Somalia). After much politicking following the Second World War, the British and Italian controlled portions merged to form Somalia in 1960, something that has burdened Somaliland ever since. Somalia as a nation did not enjoy prolonged periods of peace and stability, and eventually this situation exploded in the 1991 civil war. Whilst the southern part of the country descended into turmoil, those in Somaliland looked on in anguish at this quickly deteriorating situation, and so on 18 May 1991, Somaliland asserted their sovereignty and declared themselves an independent nation – reasserting their previous separation from Somalila that they held for the majority of the 20th century.

Though 30 years of forced marriage was over, the divorce has not been officially recognised. Save for Ethiopia, no other nation acknowledges Somaliland’s status – this perplexes the local people for they have their own government, parliament, flag, security forces, visa and currency. The situation is even more mystifying when one looks at South Sudan – the world’s newest nation has already descended into violence and chaos, yet this opportunity of nationhood is denied to stable Somaliland that even experienced a peaceful transition of power after elections in 2010 – a very rare situation in Africa. Even a constitutional referendum in 2001 where 97.1%!o(MISSING)f the population voted in favour of independence from Somalia has been ignored by the international community.

Lack of recognition has more practical and sobering consequences than a seat at the United Nations. Since people’s opinion of Somaliland is tied to its neighbour, many often and mistakenly confuse troubled Somalia with peaceful Somaliland; a problematic yoke to remove. I visited the Univerity of Hargeisa and they are keen to attract academic staff to improve the quality of the education that they provide to their eager students, of which more than a third are female. However, convincing experts to attend is difficult when people wrongly extrapolate problems within distant Somalia and apply it to the entire horn of Africa.

But most telling is the inability of Somalilanders to secure their own internationally recognised passport. Currently, for almost all overseas travel one must obtain a Somali passport from Mogadishu – a task beset with problems. Passports can be difficult to obtain in the best of circumstances in sub-Saharan Africa, and this additional requirement makes it impossible for most. This inability to legally travel overseas to seek educational or employment opportunities leads to desperate measures, as was revealed during a translated conversation with a young man in the covered main market. I was sitting on a plastic chair chatting to a shopkeeper selling beauty products when the man approached with several friends. I remain seated as a crowd of a dozen young men watched on. The conversation commenced was the usual small talk, but then took a serious turn.
“I cannot get a passport,” he commenced, “and I want to work overseas.”
The crowd awaited my response, “So what will you do?” and they shifted their gaze to the conversation initiator.
“I will go across land to Libya, I will find my way there. Then I will take a boat to Italy,” his face bore equal amounts of frustration and desperation. Every eye in the crowd now stared at me, awaiting my response.
I breathed heavily, the whole mood felt as gloomy as the subdued light.
Baashe oprerates a money change and transfer service in Hargeisa - SomalilandBaashe oprerates a money change and transfer service in Hargeisa - SomalilandBaashe oprerates a money change and transfer service in Hargeisa - Somaliland

My daily ritual for more than a week was to sit and talk to Baashe and his colleagues before exploring the city.
The normally busy market now felt eerily quiet. Knowing the problem sub-Saharan Africans have had in Libya, let alone crossing the Mediterranean in an unsafe boat, I replied. “That is not a good idea.”
“I can get a job in Europe,” was his hopeful answer under the watchful eyes of the crowd.
The chances of him obtaining a job in Europe would be extremely small, so I questioned again, “Why do want to leave here? It is safe, you are not in danger.”
“I want to go.” was his determined reply – and again, all eyes shifted back to me.
“It’s not a safe journey, there are too many problems,” was my final answer.

Shortly after, an elderly Somali woman who wandered through the market singing songs of Somalia approached. This elicited a negative response from all who berated her for such tunes. It was ironic that our continuing conversation was diverted by someone from Somalia, for the shadow from that 1960 union always looms over the people of Somaliland.

Who am I to judge the actions of this young man or to understand the frustrations he is feeling. I am fortunate to be
Getting money ready for transport - Hargeisa, SomalilandGetting money ready for transport - Hargeisa, SomalilandGetting money ready for transport - Hargeisa, Somaliland

Note all the moneychangers are the back of the photo.
a citizen of Australia, a country not only a founding member of the United Nations, but with an established presence in international relations. Imagine being a part of a country that is not recognised, not having that voice on the world stage, and not having the pride of your nation that beats in your heart ever acknowledged?

Somaliland’s cry of nationhood is begging to be heard, yet their plea is only answered by the echoes of the loyal Somaliland Diaspora spread throughout the world. Somaliland is home to the proudest people I have ever met, yet their pride is for a nation that is unrecognised. Though the green, white and red flag of Somaliland flies defiantly in Hargeisa, it is a symbol that receives no favour in foreign lands: this is a tragic travesty for a stable, peaceful territory seeking enduring bonds with its neighbours and the international community. The long overdue recognition of nationhood is something that the people of Somaliland both need and deserve.

Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26

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Univeristy of Hargeisa - SomalilandUniveristy of Hargeisa - Somaliland
Univeristy of Hargeisa - Somaliland

Somaliland flag flies on the right.
Chewing khat and smoking - Hargeisa, SomalilandChewing khat and smoking - Hargeisa, Somaliland
Chewing khat and smoking - Hargeisa, Somaliland

Really friendly guy, but he wore a serious face for the photo.
Hargeisa Civil War Memorial - SomalilandHargeisa Civil War Memorial - Somaliland
Hargeisa Civil War Memorial - Somaliland

This is an important landmark for the locals.
Very sweet girl - Hargeisa, SomalilandVery sweet girl - Hargeisa, Somaliland
Very sweet girl - Hargeisa, Somaliland

I met this Ethiopian girl a few times and on the third or fourth occasion, through an interpreter I said "You are my friend" and she replied "I love you."
Friendly Faisal - Hargeisa, SomalilandFriendly Faisal - Hargeisa, Somaliland
Friendly Faisal - Hargeisa, Somaliland

A really lovely man to talk with.
Interesting signage - Hargeisa, SomalilandInteresting signage - Hargeisa, Somaliland
Interesting signage - Hargeisa, Somaliland

I saw many unusual signs in Somaliland, but this was my favourite.
Sign at University of Hargeisa - SomalilandSign at University of Hargeisa - Somaliland
Sign at University of Hargeisa - Somaliland

The same could be said of Somaliland's efforts to achieve international recognition.

Comments only available on published blogs

1st February 2014
Chewing khat and smoking - Hargeisa, Somaliland

Great photo and interesting post about Somaliland.
7th February 2014
Chewing khat and smoking - Hargeisa, Somaliland

Thanks for your comment!
1st February 2014

Going where few have gone
You are a wonderful ambassador from the outside world. They may have mixed impressions of people who do not live in their country and you represent all that is good. It is great that you can carry the message of safety on to others who may go to visit some day. I'm glad you followed in the footsteps of Stuart and Jonas. I love that pile of money. Another great story. Mankind is good.
7th February 2014

Safety in Somaliland
I do hope this blog inspires others to visit Somaliland, just like Stuart and Jonas inspired me.
1st February 2014

A beautifully written piece, brilliant, thank you
7th February 2014

Thanks for your comment - it was a great place to visit and an equally enjoyable task to write this blog.
1st February 2014
Cheeky Ethiopian girls - Hargeisa, Somaliland

The most honest people in the world?
Somaliland sounds like a lovely place, and how great that you found some cheeky girls to photograph--not always so easy for a man in a Muslim country. Why do you think the money and gold set out on the street was so safe? Are these people the most honest in the whole world, or was there a perhaps-discreet police presence and stiff penalties for thievery? Really impressive!
7th February 2014
Cheeky Ethiopian girls - Hargeisa, Somaliland

Safety reasons?
I think the reason for the safety is the strong pride the people have in maintaining a secure and safe environment. Everyone looks out for everyone in Hargeisa.
1st February 2014

Your words and your point of view help me understand the places you visit. Thank you for sharing. You choose the precise words, nothing more and nothing less.
7th February 2014

Thanks, as always, for your encouraging words Graciela.
1st February 2014
The friendly face of Hargeisa  - Somaliland

Natural smiles
Highly entertaining, thanks for sharing it with us, it might be quite worth travelling there
7th February 2014
The friendly face of Hargeisa  - Somaliland

Definitely worth a visit
Glad you enjoyed this blog, but if you visit ensure it is the northern hemisphere winter for summers are hot in the horn of Africa.
2nd February 2014

Somaliland is not Somalia
Your report is totally different about situation regarding the concept of the actual situation of Somali people around the world, so you reach that the most friendly and hospitality people around the world are from the Somaliland people in Hargeisa. We also eager to notice the World to follow and recognize the sovereignty Independence of our country of democratic of our nation without foreign intervention support to Somaliland Republic.
7th February 2014

An important difference
Thanks for your comment! I love challenging people's perceptions in blogs, and Somaliland was one of those that allowed me to do that. I hope this helps in improving the perception of Somaliland and showing that it is different from Somalia.
2nd February 2014

Measure of safety
Even living in a country considered very safe, money left on the street like that wouldn't last long.... Let's hope Somaliland one day gets the recognition they deserve.
7th February 2014

The safest place in the world?
I was asked the other day was Hargeisa in Somaliland the safest place I have visited, and I would rank it just behind Norfolk Island for that title. A remarkable degree of public safety.
2nd February 2014

I'm glad you found Somaliland as safe and hospitable as I did years ago.
7th February 2014

Thank you
Stuart, thank you so much for being my original inspiration for this journey.
2nd February 2014

I never knew the history or about the predicament that Somaliland finds itself in...
and I thought I knew a lot about geography. Probably the reason the world has not recognized Somaliland is that no one knows about it. There are other nationless states (Vatican) and peoples (Tibetans). Perhaps Somaliland needs a good PR campaign starting with your blog...and some bumper stickers "Free Somaliland." I wish there was something we could do to overcome our nations' ignorance.
7th February 2014

Complexities on the horn of Africa
I knew that Somaliland considered itself separate before I travelled there, but was not aware of how strong the separate identity was nor how separated in a practical sense they were from Somalia. The only barrier they have to full separation is international recognition. It was an illuminating experience.
2nd February 2014

My brother your are wonderful writer, i am Habane Born in somaliland 1984 I was young when the Somalia troops declared war against Somali north \'\'Somaliland British protectorate\'\' I remember at that time we are tuning through the chain of mountains north Hargeisa city with my mother and grandfather . two dressed men from Somalia troops stop my mother and said where u are going ? she answered rural area for visit. he said back to Hargiesa, why are going ? no. no my son he is sick and I wana improve his health but he refused and he said go back to Hargeisa and already Hargiesa is burning with war plane you have seen in side hargeisa . Brother I will promise if somaliland is recolonized this year i will make simple status for your photo in-front of my home with your good name and that is your second born, third born is to become a Muslim boy but that is your choice. that is my memorial days of my life with thanks.
7th February 2014

Thank you
Thank you for reading my blog, your kind comments and the personal stories you have given. It is important to share personal stories with other people around the world so we can all understand each other better.
2nd February 2014

what a good news
yes brother that's the real somaliland and we are differ from somaliland
7th February 2014

Somaliland is not Somalia
I chose the title of the blog for the specific reason of showing that Somaliland and Somalia are very different. Thanks for reading and commenting.
3rd February 2014
Mountains of money - Hargeisa, Somaliland

Very enjoyable post Shane. This photo made me think that we should start a 'wheelbarrows around the world' photo far we have at least two - one filled with money and other with ice cream :)
7th February 2014
Mountains of money - Hargeisa, Somaliland

Wheelbarrow Thread
You are correct, I do have two wheelbarrow shots. Yes, it is a good time to start a thread about this topic.
3rd February 2014

Everything you said is true , Somaliland is a peace country but no knows that. Thank u very much. I really appreciate your support for our country. I hope one day we will get recognition and that day is not far. Thanks you again.
7th February 2014

Somaliland deserves to be recognised
I believe from my heart that Somaliland deserves to be internationally recognised, and I hope to see this in my lifetime. When it occurs, I would love to return to Hargeisa to join the celebrations.
4th February 2014

Everyone Recognize Simaliland for peace
So wonderfully written, so elegantly honest, so brutally understood, I hope everyone who reads this will write to our United Nations and ask why they would deny such an opportunity to exemplify what all New Nations should be. Somaliland is an fantastic example of beautiful free Nation that it defies belief that our United Nations can't give this small Nation a voice in an area where their example of survival, pride and peace is so needed. It always comes down to money, the UN is paid not to recognize a beautiful Nation as Samaliland sounds because they will have to pay money for a small country. Shame to the United Nations and all it's members for denying this country a voice and peace it deserves.
7th February 2014

Let their voice be heard
Your comment is so beautifully written, that I can add nothing more except to say that I fully agree with everything you have said.
4th February 2014
Sign at University of Hargeisa - Somaliland

How long is their road?
And there we were chatting on Skype with your perfect reception from Somaliland with me thinking I know so little of that land. Me and the rest of the World me thinks. It pleases my heart that you had the foresight to visit and report on this amazing country and their need for international recognition. May the powers to be take an interest and rectify an obvious need. I wonder who else you can direct attention that can make a difference. Like each step of a camel takes it forward...this blog Shane strikes me as one of your most important.
7th February 2014
Sign at University of Hargeisa - Somaliland

An important blog
Thanks for your comment Dave, I concur that this is one of my most important blogs and the number of views it is receiving indicates the same. Yes, I too wonder what else can be done to increase recognition of this issue, as more nations (like Australia) need to take a more active stance.
6th February 2014

Somaliland is not Somalia
Glad to read this, Shane. To be honest, during your Twitter preparations for this trip I had to bite my lip every time you referred to Somaliland as ‘Northern Somalia’. Hopefully future visitors to Somaliland and readers of your blog can be educated, as you have, so that one day Somaliland will not be northern Somalia, Kurdistan will not be northern Iraq.
7th February 2014

Pre-travel tweets
Thanks for reading my blog and your comment Jason. I knew that Somaliland considered itself separate before I travelled there, but (as I said below) my education came from understanding the strength of the separate identity and of the practical separation from Somalia. The reason I referred to Somaliland the way I did in my pre-travel tweets was to inform people of where Somaliland was located. In a recent radio interview, I was asked off-air to explain Somaliland's location, and conversations with other people before I travelled there (and even comments below) show that there is a large degree of unawareness in issues related to Somaliland, that even extend to where it is specifically situated. So I thought it best to commence my tweets describing its location in the 140 characters allowed. I reckon the recognition of nationhood for Somaliland is easier than the task facing the Kurds in having Kurdistan recognised.
11th May 2014

Tips about Hargeisa
Hei, read you blog about Hargeisa and I loved it. Am Somalian but never been to Hargeisa nor can I speak Somali language but hell if you did it why not me!!, planning on travelling to Hargeisa via Addis ababa. Than by road thro Jigjiga to wajale. Just wanted to say you have inspired me to travell to my homeland thank you soo much !! Ohh by the way am from Oslo, Norway.
12th May 2014

Travel to and from Somaliland
Thank you so much for your comment. Hope you can make the journey! Be aware that if you are going to Somaliland via Ethiopia you need to obtain a double or multiple entry visa for Ethiopia from Norway. If you do not, you will be unable to obtain a double entry visa on arrival in Addis Ababa and as of late last year, you are unable to obtain Ethiopian visas in Hargeisa. Thus, it means you must fly from Hargeisa to Addis Ababa and not go by road as visas are not issued at land borders. I met a few people in Somaliland who were hoping to travel by land to Ethiopia, but were refused the visa at the Ethiopian Consulate, so were forced to fly by plane since they could obtain the visa on arrival at Bole airport in Addis Ababa.

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