The self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland was formed in 1991 after the collapse of unitary Somalia. Thanks mainly to the dominance of a single clan (the Isaq), it has remained relatively peaceful and stable since 1991, despite the occasional terrorist attack.
Somaliland has all the attributes of a “normal” state: a parliament, free press, a currency, a flag… but nobody knows (or probably cares). Somaliland is still treated as a pariah by the international community and is not recognized as a separate state in the outside world , except by a few countries, including Ethiopia, which has a Liaison Office in Hargeisa. The main reason why the rest of the world is reluctant to accept Somaliland’s independence is that the UN still hopes for an agreement covering all of Somalia, which they believe would avoid a potential “Balkanization” of the Horn of Africa.
It’s difficult to forget your first impression of Hargeisa – and I’m not just referring to the roadblocks and soldiers wielding machine guns; instead I am referring to a hassle-free, intriguing and energizing city. The streets are alive, the roads are busy and the air is thick with a cacophony of mobile phones, vehicle horns and calls to prayer. Sure, the capital of Somaliland still bears the scars of the civil war that destroyed the country in the past decades, but that just adds to the fun.
Hargeisa has all the conveniences a traveler could hope for: good-value hotels with English-speaking staff, restaurants, internet cafes, electronics shops, tea shops, gun dealers, markets, buses, taxis, etc.
There are no standout sights in Hargeisa – one comes for the ambience and sense of exploration. And if you like your markets colorful, chaotic and spilling into the surrounding streets and enjoy the feeling of being the only Westerner in town, Hargeisa might just be the place for you.
Below is a view from the roof of our hotel – the Oriental… By the way, if you visit Hargeisa, I would strongly suggest staying here. It is centrally located, has a decent restaurant and Said and Abdi Abdi are extremely helpful with arranging and fixing things (and they speak English).
The Ali Matan mosque:
These are some videos I shot to provide a better feel for the sights and sounds of the city:
And here is a video from right in front of the hotel – dominated by the Ali Matan mosque:
First things first though… When going out for a walk about town, one needs to change some money into the local currency for incidental expenses. Twenty American dollars nearly filled my backpack with the local currency:
If you require more of a “pick me up”, you can visit one of the many khat dealers around the city. They really don’t like having their pictures taken though:
There are a lot of goats just hanging out around the city… This was the first set we encountered and it immediately left me with a favorable impression of the Somalis:
It isn’t just goats that one encounters in Hargeisa though. Even the Somalis were a bit intimidated by this big bull wandering around:
Just past the goats was the War Memorial of Hargeisa with the distinctive Somali Air Force MiG on top:
The presidential compound (for Somaliland) is on the right:
Below is the interior of the Ethiopian liaison office in Hargeisa… Don’t be lulled into a false sense of confidence by how easy it is to obtain an Ethiopian visa when one arrives at the airport in Addis Ababa. It is much more difficult to obtain a visa to return to Ethiopia via Somalia. It requires a lot more money, two photographs, a letter from the intelligence agency of Somaliland and, of course, a completed application form from the Ethiopians:
Some scenes of Hargeisa:
The “river” running through Hargeisa:
And the bridge running over it: