Sunday, 6 January 2013
Somalia is not just a country, it is a state of mind. No one who travels here leaves untouched. Like the climate it is a place of extremes invoking passions unlike anywhere else. Many leave promising that nothing on earth will ever make them return, or like me you are hooked.
I love Somalia. Once long ago, a Somali friend and I walked four camels from Kismayo up to Hargeisa, travelling mostly at night. It was an unforgettable journey. Then the dictator Siad Barre was overthrown and Somalia descended into a long nightmare.
I returned in 1991 to set up a relief programme for one of the British NGO's and ended up staying a year through some of the worst fighting. The bravery of the Pakistani soldiers in an impossible situation and the eventual arrival of the Americans and Operation Restore Hope are not scenes easily forgotten.
It was like a tower of Babel. So many nations had soldiers there. From America to Zimbabwe with just about every letter in between. The French Foreign Legion had their first base on the roof of my compound. Then despite a huge effort we had Black Hawk Down and the rest is history.
Now there is finally tangible progress. Somaliland has a vibrant economy and Puntland has seen a sharp reduction in attempted piracy from its coastline. The changes down south are also making a real difference. The diaspora are slowly returning as are the refugees from Kenya.
For those of us who have had the privilege of living there, Gerald Hanley's 'Warriors and Strangers' encapsulates Somalia's magnetic appeal.