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I learned something new today. Those who know me, know that I have a mild proclivity to court stupid situations and possible danger, often for little reward beyond being able to say “yes, I did that stupid thing – that was me (proud grin)”. Ethiopia, as anyone who follows the basics of world events will know, is right next door to Somalia. And Somalia, as anyone who follows the basics of world events will know, is an irredeemably screwed up mess of fighting, death, piracy and a life expectancy for tourists which can be measured with a budget egg timer. In short, it would be awesome to say I had seen that part of the world.

Even the most die hard (excuse the phrase) will to see strange and possibly dangerous places must stand aside when faced with the (pretty much) non-negotiable reality of receiving an early funeral in the dust of Mogadishu instead of a T-shirt. Somalia, while cool, is also fatal.

not only does Somaliland not appear to share the worst characteristics of their neighbours, but the area appears to be a stable, functioning, de facto country

What I have since discovered, though, is that the entire landscape in that part of the world is slightly more complex than the news reports and the making of Black Hawk Down would suggest. Somalia, as the country is geographically defined internationally, consists of at least three parts. Somalia proper is the land of islamist militias, death and punishment. Puntland slightly to the north is the home of the pirates, who are currently outselling their southern brethren in the news reports for hijacking ships in the gulf of Aden Рalmost as though they were glorified lucky packets, carrying oil or food aid one day, and a shipment of tanks headed to  Southern Sudan the next. To the northeast of Somalia, however, is a place called Somaliland, of which, the capital city РHargesia Рis the second largest in Somalia, second only to Mogadishu Рinsofar as that city functions as one. More fascinating, however, is that not only does Somaliland not appear to share the worst characteristics of their neighbours, but the area appears to be a stable, functioning, de facto country Рcomplete with university, traffic police and a complete lack of the wanton gratuitous violence that characterises the areas to the east.

And so it appears that there may indeed, just possibly, be a way to go and see part of this neck of the woods without having to risk mine unnecessarily. Whether or not we go and see it – who knows – but it seemed worth sharing the surprising discovery that in the middle of such a godawful mess, at least part of the country has managed to create an island of peace and stability. This certainly deserves more looking into.