Somaliland: A Foreigner’s Perspective

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By: Mark HayMark Hay

HARGEISA (Somalilandsun) – “For a foreigner, coming to Somaliland it can feel a bit like stepping into a blank space on the map. Before I arrived in Hargeisa three weeks ago, I decided to educate myself about the country by reading everything I could. Unfortunately, given the limited levels of tourism and press coverage of this nation, even when I went on an active search for information, most of what I found was fragmentary, out-dated, and at the very worst contradictory.

To my mind, though, that was no deterrence, but rather all the more reason to come here: to fill in these massive gaps in my personal knowledge of the region, to come to know Somaliland as best I can, and to bring that knowledge back to my little corner of the world.

Given my personal interests in history and Islamic knowledge, I’ve spent a great portion of my time here exploring sites associated with the pre-colonial Islamic kingdoms that inhabited Somaliland. Thus far I have journeyed into the Awdal region, where I was able to visit numerous ruins, ancient cities, and burial sites. Fortunately for other tourists, some of the most impressive of these sites are actually the most accessible, located in the city of Zeila. While most of the sites in Zeila date to the time of the Ottoman Empire’s presence on the northern Somali coast, their architecture is unique when compared to other Ottoman buildings and deserve attention and respect just for that fact. However, there are a number of even older historical sites in Zeila (the Qiblatain, although largely ruined, retains some notable features) and on Sa’ad ad-Din Island.

Unfortunately not much is known about these old sites. In many cities and towns near the sites, I was saddened to find that those elders who knew the stories and legends associated with the region’s history have either died of old age or were killed in the war preceding the withdrawal of Somaliland from Somalia. It is a strange and heartbreaking thing to witness history slipping away. And as this knowledge and respect for the historical sites departs with the death of those who knew about them, the sites themselves face serious threats. In Zeila, a number of structures have begun to collapse in recent years, while other Ottoman-era buildings, over five-hundred years old, have been reduced to trash pits, piled high with scraps of paper and used water bottles. Even more tragically, the site of Ex-Amud appears to have once been a massive settlement which could have been a world-class historical site and tourist attraction. But all of its structures have been torn down, looted for building materials to be used in modern developments.

I have been able to learn much about the history of pre-colonial Somaliland from these sites and the remaining stories and poems associated with them. But I worry that in the future those who come, like me, with a historical interest in the region will find little to nothing left to explore. Somaliland’s historical sites are, to be sure, only one element of what it has to offer to visitors and to the world (I intend to spend the next couple of weeks exploring modern life in Somaliland, leaving behind history to learn what the nation has to offer today). However, they are wonderful sites, historically noteworthy and deserving of future study. And thus they are worthy of the pride and protection of the Somaliland state. I have cherished the opportunity to visit these national treasures, and I deeply hope that many more will be able to share that opportunity and joy in the future.”

Mark Hay is also the writer of Somaliland is a real country according to Somaliland

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