tagged w/ Somaliland
By: Alex Pena
While war grips the horn of Africa in Somalia’s south, a brand new industry is growing in the north - tourism.
A new tourism agency in Somalia’s northern autonomous region of Somaliland called STTA (Somaliland Travel and Tourism Agency) is extending their hand out to the international community.
“Come see what we have to offer,” said Abdinasir Ibrahim, Deputy Manager for STTA.
The agency, which has been open for a little over a year, has been offering foreigners a glimpse into northern Somalia -- a self declared independent region of 3.5 million people, and even though it has managed to find relative calm amidst a violent war in the south, the international community does not recognize it as a country.
“Most people have a bad image of Somalia -- the piracy, Islamic militants and the war in Mogadishu,” said Ibrahim. “When people come here, they see how people live, how they work and the peaceful situation.”
Earlier this year, Somaliland made headlines for what international observers called the first free election in Somalia with over 1 million registered voters electing Ahmed M. Mohamoud Silanyo as their president. The elections were considered to have been fair with relatively low violence.
“Seeing is believing,” said Ibrahim. “Once they see Somaliland, only then will they understand that we are very different.”
In the one-year STTA has been open for business, they have hosted tourists from all over the world including South Africa, Hungary, Serbia and America.
“We’ve had 21 American tourists come visit, and even an 82-year-old woman from Japan,” said Ibrahim. “We weren’t sure how she was going to climb the mountains, but she did.”
Tourists of Somaliland can expect to explore archeological sites, but also a rugged dry and what some tourist exclaim as a beautiful coastline that is exclusive to the horn of Africa.
One of the most interesting attractions in the Horn of Africa is the Laas Gaal cave paintings. The paintings are located near Hargeisa and were discovered by a French archaeological team in 2002. The Somaliland government says only few tourist have traveled to see the sites, which is why the STTA has made it part of their program.
“We really enjoyed every moment of the 8-day tour and we saw many unforgettable, beautiful places in such a short time,” wrote a tourist from Spain on the companies website. “We have been to many countries; America, Europe and Asia, but Somaliland stole our hearts and we will surely come back!”
One tourist from England described Somaliland as, “ a country full of hospitality and friendship, with a rich history and traditions, where we met very friendly people.”
According to Raymon Gilpin, tourism and Somalia expert at the United States Institute of Peace and Associate Vice President and director of USIP’s Sustainable Economies Center of Innovation, an area like Somaliland is not quite ready for a booming tourism industry.
“It has good beaches,” said Gilpin. “But that area is also tainted by piracy. At the moment, it is a diamond in the rough. You’ll have to dig deep, because there is a lot of groundwork that would be needed for a successful tourism industry in Somaliland. “
Gilpin believes there are a few issues Somaliland needs to take care of first before an industry of tourism can boom in Somalia’s north.
“I think the biggest issue in context of tourism is why does somebody want to visit. They don’t want 5-star hotel, but the facilities need to give them an enjoyable and interesting stay,” he said.
“I don’t see much going on in Somaliland that is preparing the recreational traveler for the experience they would call tourism. There are always curious people who will go, but if your talking tourism, there is a lot more that needs to be done.”
The STTA offices are located in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa, where there is a functioning airport with security and police officers -- unlike Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu that has not had a functioning central government in over 21 years.
“It has institutions which are not the most robust, but they function well. Security is not 100 percent, but it is decent,” said Gilpin.
“Anything in that part of the world is considered ‘risky travel’. Staying outside Hargeisa is risky and potentially dangerous, but not as dangerous as if this was being done in Puntland or Mogadishu,” he said.
The U.S. Department of state says in 2007, 2008 and 2009, there were several violent kidnappings and eight assassinations in Somalia, including by suicide bombing, of staff working for international organizations. Additionally, there have been threats against Westerners in Somalia, including Somaliland.
Their travel warning reads: “While Somaliland has experienced a level of stability that has not been present in other parts of Somalia, please note that the Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against all travel to Somalia, including the self-proclaimed “Independent Republic of Somaliland”
According to Ibrahim, tourists should feel safe in the capital exploring shops and places to eat on their own. Leaving the security of the capital is when it’s necessary to have armed guards, and portions of the STTA tours do venture outside that safety realm.
“Fortunately we have a close relationship with the government and they offer us special security,” said Ibrahim. “We recognize that our neighbor is Somalia, and it’s just better to have the protection than to not.”
Tourists can venture outside the city on what the STTA refers to as a nomadic tour, but according to Ibrahim, most guests head back to the safety of the capital.
“They usually don’t like to sleep outside of Hargeisa,” he said. “Although, we are planning a 3-4 day stay outside the capital for a group coming in January.”
Somaliland was under British rule from 1884 until June 1960, when Somaliland received independence from Great Britain. Less than a month later, they joined the former Italian Somalia to form the Republic of Somalia.
When the Republic of Somalia fell into a violent civil war from the 1980’s onwards, the people of the former British Somaliland held a congress in which they decided to withdraw from the union and reinstate Somaliland’s sovereignty. This was in 1991, and until this day, Somaliland has still not been recognized as a sovereign nation.By: Alex Pena
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