Our partner in Somaliland, Abdirizaq, tells us about his experiences and tourism in Somaliland.
Is ka warran and soo dhowow! (hello and welcome)
YPT: Thanks for your time today. To begin with, could you briefly introduce yourself to our blog readers?
Abdirizaq: I was born in Hargeisa, and moved to the Netherlands at the age of four as a refugee with my family. We wanted to go to Canada or the US where our family members already lived, but when we stopped in Germany, we somehow ended up staying in Europe. I grew up in the Netherlands, and did two master degrees in law. After my graduation, I started to work as a legal expert for some large corporates, such as bank, insurance company and legal agents.
YPT: So from your career in law in the Netherlands, how did you end up working in the tourism industry in Somaliland?
Abdirizaq: First of all, just like you and any of your clients, I love traveling and traveling is my passion. I discovered the pleasure of travels as a kid, and I grew up to become a boy who is into geography and different cultures. My hobby was to just gaze at the world map. When I was in college, I traveled across Europe with a group of friends. I also backpacked across Southeast Asia. These experiences really opened my eyes in terms of tourism as business. I discovered that tourism not only makes travelers happy, but also benefits the local population – first, financially, but more importantly, the interactions with foreign visitors really open their eyes.
Then I started to think about the potentials of tourism industry in my home, Somaliland. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became about this potential – and also that it would be a great way to support our country and people. I knew Somaliland, its culture and language very well even though I grew up in Europe. I also have many family members in the country. However, after I started to have this business idea, I backpacked around Somaliland for a month. My objectives were to check two important elements when starting a business in tourism: safety and attractions, and to develop contacts all over the country. During this trip, I was surprised how much we actually have to offer.
Our country indeed is very unique, and people are extremely generous, welcoming and interested in visitors. Country is also safe enough to move around. What made me convinced the most is the fact that there are some Western tourists there – and the number of such tourists is on rise.
Of course, as you can imagine, it was very difficult to set up a business. Convincing the local people about the potentials of my business was especially difficult because no one believed in the potentials in the tourism industry in our country. “No one would come to Somaliland” “We do not have any interesting sites” were two most common reactions that I got from them. Another challenge that I faced was to provide good-quality services to our tourists. People in Somaliland are very laid-back, and they are often not on time. Many people who grew up there have never been exposed to the standards of services outside the country. However, good thing is that this is improving little by little.
On the other hand, it was also very difficult to change the negative image of Somaliland by potential tourists. Majority of people do not know about Somaliland, and even if they know, many think that Somaliland and Somalia are the same (therefore, “it is a no-go zone”). It is also difficult that most governments categorize Somaliland as a red zone, which is not really the case in Somaliland, especially in Hargeisa, Central and Western parts of the country. Only those who have done their own research are convinced to come and explore our beautiful and unique country.
YPT: Security definitely is the biggest concern of many tourists. Could you tell us more about it?
Abdirizaq: Sure. First, we all must admit that Somaliland is located in an unstable region- we have Somalia as our bordered neighbor, and Yemen is across the Red Sea. But one thing I can proudly say is that, Somaliland does everything possible to ensure the security inside their territory, particularly foreigners. The government is training SPU (Special Protection Unit) to protect foreign visitors. Unlike other neighbouring countries, Somaliland has succeeded in preventing terrorist attacks. The last attack in Somaliland was in 2008.
The Ministry of Tourism sets the safety of foreign tourists as their top priority, and they never allow any tourists to travel to a region if there is anything suspicious going on. Unfortunately, the security situation of our world today can change every minute and second. However, one thing I can say is that, our country is safe enough to travel. Please also remember that Somaliland is booming, meaning that there are people having their normal life and doing their business there.
YPT: What are the top five things to do and see in Somaliland?
Abdirizaq: The top attraction of the country absolutely is its people. They are very kind, friendly and welcoming. Since we do not have many foreigners yet, they would be very interested in you. Good thing is that, due to the British colonialism, many people speak English. You will have a lot of opportunities to directly hear about their stories in an unrecognized nation, and their view on their society, and build friendship with them. Hargeisa is by far the most interesting and exciting place to meet with the Somalilanders. You can just see what people do in their daily life, which is quite fascinating. For example, many foreign visitors get surprised to see our money exchangers on the street. They usually have a bulk of money, but do not have any security guards, let alone weapons. What is more, they would sometimes leave their money on the street to take a break, and find their money again untouched an hour later! Seriously, how many places in the world can you witness this kind of scene?
The second attraction would be Laas Geel. This is a site with lots of ancient rock painting. It is as fascinating as internationally well-recognized Lascaux in France. I do not understand why Laas Geel is not selected as a UNESCO World Heritage site – it is probably because our country is unrecognized.
The third attraction is Erigavo. There are spectacular mountains. This is a great place to challenge your image on Somaliland and the Horn of Africa in general, as the mountains are GREEN!
The fourth site is just our long and untouched coastline to the Red Sea. Especially beaches near Barbera are gorgeous.
The fifth site is Zeila, an ancient port near the border with Djibouti. Not only the interesting and rich history of the town, Zeila also has a few uninhabited islands. Sacadadin island is one of them, and…oh how can I explain the beauty of this island…it is very quiet. Island has three colors: trees are green, beach is white and water is crystal-clear. I believe that in the very long- term, this island would be “the” place to visit, and some high-rank hotels would be constructed.
YPT: What does Somaliland mean for you?
Abdirizaq: Somaliland means struggles, dedication and hard-work for me. War completely destroyed the country, but what the Somalilander government and people have done, constructed and achieved since 1991 is just simply amazing. Because the international society has not recognized our independence, the country cannot receive any official foreign aid. Even the World Bank or IMF did close to nothing. Somaliland, however, developed democracy and security all on their own, with great support from the Somali diaspora all over the world. I believe that Somaliland can be a good example for other African countries. Our success story proves that to develop a country, we do not need any external support. With strong wills and dedication, we can build a country from scratch.