Somaliland: Comments on a New Bradt Travel Guidebook Exclusive to Somaliland

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By: Ahmed Abdi Daar

Somalilandsun – The internationally famed Bradt travelers’ guidebooks include a new typically glossy book titled Somaliland. The book is more than a normal travel book: it is more so a political statement to the favor of diplomatic recognition for Somaliland. The team behind the book exudes out of its reading as being genuinely in love with Somaliland, its upbeat people and their innocent cause.

Once you love your subject, you tend to write well about it. I was most impressed with this team’s sense of purpose: To bring Somaliland out from the cold. Bradt did just that:

Written by Phillip Brigs, a seasoned travel books writer who specializes on Africa, Somaliland with Addis Ababa & East Ethiopia has succeeded to achieve its double edged purpose: (1) pioneer to present Somaliland as an intriguing country worth touristic sojourns despite being next door to shunned Somalia and (2) to expose it as a wholesome country which shows every reason to be counted among those which ‘exist’. Both objectives seem to have lied deep down under a thick image problem pertaining to Somalia, but also falsely shadowing over Somaliland. Mr. Briggs beats the odds; he succeeds to uplift Somaliland from sub zero domain, to the positive limelight of candidate countries for the next adventure to the Horn region. As a result, Somaliland has an exclusive peer copy among the tens and tens of Bradt country guidebooks in booksellers’ shelves under letter S.

The well known English TV journalist, Simon Reeve contributed a concise but sharp foreword to the book. He has had showered the country with praise to impress it on Hilary Bradt and Adrian Philips, the publishing director, to take the challenge to do this work. But, wait a minute: I can never forget these appealing, eye catching statements he wrote. He says (1) that the best attraction to Somaliland is ‘its determined and inspirational people’ and (2) he hopes that Somaliland will one day gain its seat in the United Nations. His name stamped on the book is a big plus. Mr. Simon Reeve is a member of the Council of Ambassadors of the World Wildlife Fund along with such world heavyweights as Sir David Attenborough. I wish Simon Reeve, the force behind the book, is knighted, too, one day soon.

The book is divided into two parts. Part: One tackles to answer: which Somaliland? It sets out to familiarize the reader with Somaliland. Phillip Briggs has given this subject a superb treatment. I appreciated how hard he must have tried to produce such a thorough work on Somaliland which we all know suffers from a severe paucity of basic geographic, historic, cartographic, archeological, and paleontological research material. As Somaliland lacks maps for local travel, I was also impressed by how effective he directs potential visitors to places and features situated on un-signposted coordinates in no man’s land. In fact, to compensate for the lack of usable maps, the author has studded the book with original street maps of his own for Hargeisa and for other major Somaliland towns and Eastern Ethiopia. By the time you finish this background part (Chapters 1 to 5) plus the numerous separately boxed shaded pages and parts of pages, which address iconic Somalilander features, like frankincense, khat, the Nogaal wells, the shy Beira antelope, Elmi Boodhari.etc, the reader ends up well informed about this previously totally or partially unknown country. Having discussed both the pluses and minuses of the destination, the author begins to include all the ingredients of a standard travel guidebook to facilitate practical travel.

Part Two, which contains Chapters 6 to 11 is the actual guide section. It gives precise guidance to the major places to visit: the Hargeisa camel market,The old Othman coastal port of Berbera, the oldest African Neolithic rocks arts at Las Geel, Sheikh town and Burao, the spectacular Daalo Escarpment in Sanaag and the Borama area to the west of Hargeisa including ancient Zeila. Appendix 1 & 2 respectively contain a list of Somali words and references for further reading followed by an index.(.Give also a glance to Philip Brigg’s http://www.bradtguides.com/articles-somaliland-beacon-of-peace.html  )

Some beautiful pictures of selected physical and cultural features of Somaliland are inserted in two places in the book. These consist of two sets of photos taken by Adriane Von Zandbergen, the photographer wife of the author; which add to the glossiness of the book. Some show Neolithic rock art paintings, the turquoise Gulf of Aden warm waters, unadulterated pristine beaches, some endemic Somalilander wildlife including colorful birds and endemic flora, while others depict cultural instances like the faces of young Somalilander pretty ladies, selling of dates in a Hargeisa bazaar, bundles of Ina Gaafane khat and cups filled with spicy Somali tea. The vivid pictures makes one almost feel, hear, taste and smell their intangible aspects and ambiance. American born Sean Connally, who contributed a piece on culture and arts of the country, comes out as more Somalilander than some Somalilanders less sensitized to the pre-war all-pervasive, Hargeisa radial theatre. His mention of words like mirqaan and qaraami songs, the Somalilander equivalent of the western blues of the same period, are but nostalgic. Ornithologists Callan Cohen and Michel Mills account for the colorful birds and the associated birding in Somaliland. (The only Somalilander birding specialist Mr. Abdi Jama Is mentioned in the acknowledgement) Among many others, Dr. Sade Mire, also the only Somalilander archeologist is thanked for her provision of expert archeological information to the author.

There are a few minor mistakes here and there, which can be communicated to the publisher for refinement of future editions as the publisher requests. However, the most serious mistake is the color map at the very front part of the book and the location map on page 20. To be sure, the international boundaries of Somaliland exactly coincide with its former colonial demarcation lines. The two above cited maps wrongly show the lower leg of the boundary shared with the self-styled Puntland region of Somalia as a jagged, zigzag one. Rather, this part trends in a straight NE-SW alignment. Had it not been for this cartographic error, I might have recommended this otherwise superior publication as a supplementary reader for Somaliland schools. I will wait for the correction.

The book was published on March, 2012. It carries ISBN: 978 1 84612 379 and is available from all good bookshops or by post, phone or internet direct from: Bradt Travel Guides Ltd, Tel +44 (0) 1753 893444 ( http://www.bradtguides.com/Book/201/Somaliland.html ).

I am writing this brief review on Somaliland with Addis Ababa & Eastern Ethiopia in memory of the late Abdirahman M. Abdi, cited in the acknowledgment as Abdi Abdi of the Oriental Hotel in Hargeisa, without whose ‘support and encouragement’, as the author says, ‘this book might not have existed.’ He was a highly cultured and a common friend whom I happily shared with at least some of this wonderful Bradt team. He deserves posthumous accolades, as the Bradt team deserves, in my personal judgment, nothing less than honorary Somalilander citizenship.

Ahmed Abdi Daar ahmed.daar@hotmail.com Dec. 17, 2013

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