My first visit to Hargeisa was in the 1980’s, walking camels up from Kismayo – it was one of those journeys that shapes your life forever.
Back then Hargeisa the former capital of British Somaliland was showing its age. The resident Isaaq clan were already pressing for greater autonomy, and as the country began its long slide into anarchy no-one could have imagined what the President of Somalia, Siad Barre was about to do next.
I returned again in 1991 during a bleak period in the civil war to establish an agricultural rehabilitation programme in the south of the Country, flying first into Hargeisa. Alongside the airstrip a nomad was firing his M16 into the air, no-one paid attention.
Hargeisa was a shock. All that remained of the old cinema was the flat concrete roof on the ground, underneath lay the people that had been packed into the building for shelter when it was bombed flat.
|A memorial to those that died|
Yet 1991 was to be the year things began to take a turn for the better in Hargeisa. Instead of slipping into the grip of warlords, Somaliland chose a different path. Without international recognition and the associated financial support, they began to rebuild Hargeisa with their own hands to create their State of Somaliland. What they have achieved is 'truly impressive' (a quote from the English Guardian newspaper).
Most of the money to fund this miracle has come via remittances from the diaspora, but there is a thriving commercial sector as well. Against all the odds Somaliland is a success in a region used to bad news stories.
Somaliland is only recognised internationally as an autonomous region of Somalia and not as an independent republic, which remains at odds with its existence as an independent State prior to merging with Italian Somaliland in 1961.The icing on the cake for Hargeisa is the marvellous neolithic rock art cave system at Lass Gaal, discovered by the outside world in 2002. Over 5,000 years old, they are some of the most pristine on the Continent.
|Laas Gaal cave painting|
Somaliland now has an elected parliament and a thriving economy, all achieved from the rubble of a bombed out capital without large scale international aid. It just goes to show what can be achieved with determination and self-belief.