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For a lesson in what anarchy looks like, there’s no better destination than Somalia. If you are heavily armed or a real-life Jack Bauer, you should find yourself well-entertained here. For us ordinary folk, however, Somalia’s situation is far too dangerous. Wracked by civil war and famine, the country was dealt another harsh blow by the tsunami in late 2004. All in all, anarchy and extreme poverty make for a highly volatile situation. We don't recommend planning a trip there any time soon.
In the late 19th century, after the Berlin conference, European powers began the Scramble for Africa, which inspired the Dervish leader Muhammad Abdullah Hassan to rally support from across the Horn of Africa and begin one of the longest colonial resistance wars ever. He repulsed the British in four expeditions and had relations with the central powers of the Ottomans and the Germans. In 1920, the Dervish state collapsed after intensive aerial bombardments by Britain, and Dervish territories were subsequently turned into a protectorate. With the arrival of Governor Cesare Maria De Vecchi on 15 December 1923, things began to change for that part of Somaliland known as Italian Somaliland. Italy had access to these areas under the successive protection treaties, but not direct rule. Following World War II, although Somalis aided the Allied powers in their struggle against the Axis powers, Britain retained control of both British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland as protectorates. In November 1949, the United Nations granted Italy trusteeship of Italian Somaliland. British Somaliland became independent on June 26, 1960, and the former Italian Somaliland followed suit five days later. On July 1, 1960, the two territories united to form the Somali Republic, albeit within boundaries drawn up by Italy and Britain. In 1977 and 1978, Somalia invaded its neighbour Ethiopia in the Ogaden War, in which Somalia aimed to unite the Somali lands that had been partitioned by the former colonial powers, and to win the right of self-determination for ethnic Somalis in those territories. 1991 saw great changes in Somalia. President Barre was ousted by combined northern and southern clan-based forces all of whom were backed and armed by Ethiopia. And following a meeting of the Somali National Movement and northern clans' elders, the northern former British portion of the country declared its independence as Somaliland in May 1991; although de facto independent and relatively stable compared to the tumultuous south, it has not been recognised by any foreign government. Civil war broke out in the 1990s and fighting escalated until 19 American troops and more than 1,000 Somalis were killed in a raid in Mogadishu during October 1993. The UN withdrew Operation United Shield in 3 March 1995, having suffered significant casualties, and with the rule of government still not restored. A consequence of the collapse of governmental authority that accompanied the civil war has been the creation of a significant problem with piracy off the coast of Somalia originating in coastal ports. Piracy arose as a response by local Somali fishermen from coastal towns such as Eyl, Kismayo and Harardhere to predatory fishing by foreign fishing trawlers that followed the collapse of Somali governmental authority.
Africa's easternmost country, Somalia has a land area of 637,540 square kilometres. It occupies the tip of a region commonly referred to as the Horn of Africa (because of its resemblance on the map to a rhinoceros' horn) that also includes Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. Somalia's terrain consists mainly of plateaus, plains, and highlands. In the far north, however, the rugged east-west ranges of the Ogo Mountains lie at varying distances from the Gulf of Aden coast. The local geology suggests the presence of valuable mineral deposits. Somalia's long coastline, more than 3,025 kilometres, the longest coastline of Africa and the Middle East, has been of importance chiefly in permitting trade with the Middle East and the rest of the Horn of Africa. Somalia is bordered by Djibouti to the northwest, Kenya to the southwest, the Gulf of Aden to the north, the Indian Ocean to the east, and Ethiopia to the west. It lies between latitudes 2°S and 12°N, and longitudes 41° and 52°E. Strategically located at the mouth of the Bab el Mandeb gateway to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, the country occupies the tip of a region that, due to its resemblance on the map to a rhinoceros' horn, is commonly referred to as the Horn of Africa. Its terrain consists mainly of plateaus, plains and highlands. In the north, a scrub-covered, semi-desert plain referred as the Guban lies parallel to the Gulf of Aden littoral. This coastal strip is part of the Ethiopian xeric grasslands and shrublands ecoregion. Cal Madow is a mountain range in the northeastern part of the country. Extending from several kilometres west of the city of Bosaso to the northwest of Erigavo, it features Somalia's highest peak, Shimbiris, which sits at an elevation of about 2,416 metres. The rugged east-west ranges of the Karkaar Mountains also lie to the interior of the Gulf of Aden littoral. In the central regions, the country's northern mountain ranges give way to shallow plateaus and typically dry watercourses that are referred to locally as the Ogo. The Ogo's western plateau, in turn, gradually merges into the Haud, an important grazing area for livestock. Somalia has only two permanent rivers, the Jubba and the Shabele, both of which begin in the Ethiopian Highlands. These rivers mainly flow southwards, with the Jubba River entering the Indian Ocean at Kismayo. The Shabele River at one time apparently used to enter the sea near Merca, but now reaches a point just southwest of Mogadishu. After that, it consists of swamps and dry reaches before finally disappearing in the desert terrain east of Jilib, near the Jubba River.
Four quasi-independent states (not internationally recognised) have formed on the territory of Somalia since late last century.
The rest of Somalia consists of the following regions, not all of which the government has much control.
If Las Geel was not situated in Somalia, it would probably be overrun by tourists and declared a World Heritage Site. But as it is located in Somaliland it is not. Still, it is one of the highlights of the country. You will find hundreds of magnificent neolithic rock art paintings which are in a perfect condition on the walls of several interconnected caves and shelters. Some of these rock art paintings are more than a metre in length and are exceptionally well preserved. For the next years or so Las Geel will definately remain a hidden gem, which is both a good thing as well as a shame.
Hargeisa is one of the safer places to visit and actually has a decent infrastructure for travellers as well, with hotels and restaurants, transport connections and a safe enough location to just walk around and soak up the atmosphere without a tourist in sight. Locals will definately want to meet you, talk with you and touch you, so be prepared. It's a bustling city without any real attraction but just adds to the charm of this city. The markets are probably the best site to visit with locals selling almost everything. Remember that your night out will be accompanied with 'chay' and not alcohol.
The road between this two bustling cities partly travels along the coastline which offers spectactular views. Both cities are relatively safe to visit and the area in between is as well. Try to travel during the day though, both for safety reasons as well as the views and landscape.
June 26 marks National Independence Day for Somalia and more than two decades without Italian rule. In 2012, violence ceased long enough for residents to finally celebrate their freedom from colonial rule. Many have criticized this day, however, as true freedom from violence and oppression has not yet been achieved.
Held annually in July, Neeroosh, or Dab-shid as it is alternatively known, celebrates the beginning of the solar year in Somalia and Somaliland. While Somalis are Muslim and abide by the lunar calendar, they also use the solar calendar to make decisions about religious days, harvest times, and so forth. The festival is known as the Festival of Fire internationally as locals build huge bonfires, splash water on each other, and dance to welcome the arrival of summer. This is one of the more jovial festivals on the calendar and should not be missed.
Every year in August, the Islamic population of Somaliland, Puntland, and greater Somalia celebrate Eid al-Fitr. This religious holiday marks of the end of Ramadan – the holy month during which those of the Islamic faith fast. This day really is a celebration of everyone’s efforts and sacrifices. The day is marked with ceremonies in mosques around the region, the gathering of friends and families to enjoy great feasts, and perhaps the most special activity for some – the purchasing of new outfits to wear on the day.
October marks the arrival an important day on the Islamic calendar. Also known as Tabaski in other North African countries, the holiday lasts for two or three days and is held to commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his first born son to the Lord. In accordance with the story, locals slaughter a sheep, thus performing the same act as Ibrahim. The sheep is then cooked and used as a basis for a feast among family and friends.
Rounding off the religious calendar in November is the Day of Ashura, a day of mourning for the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad who died at the Battle of Karbala. The day is commemorated by both Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, and is a public holiday in Somalia, during which time Muslim communities come out into the streets in their thousands to show their mourning. It is an interesting religious festival to witness or partake in.
Somalia is a dry and hot country, with high humidity along the coastline. Temperatures in the north are comparable with those found in for example the east of Ethiopia or in Djibouti. Here, days average over 40 °C from June to September and around 30 °C from December to February. Nights are generally 10 degrees Celsius cooler. Temperatures can reach 50 °C here, and along the coast, although a bit cooler, the high humidity makes life extremely unbearable these months. There is little or no rainfall, only December to May might have some notable showers. In the rest of the country, most of the sparce and unreliable rain falls between April and September. Temperatures to the south, both inland and along the coast are lower than the north. Along the coast, nights average between 23 °C and 26 °C year round, days between 28 °C and 32 °C. Rainfall averages around 300 to 500 mm a year, which is rather low for the position near the equator. Inland it is hotter during the day in summer, colder at night in winter. Rainfall is comparable but low.
Jubba Airways has a few international flights, mainly to the Middle East like Sjarjah, Dubai and Jeddah and to Djibouti as well. From Djibouti, Djibouti Airlines serves a few places in the north of the country as well. Few other connections exist with the ongoing unstable position in the country.
There are daily Toyota Landcruisers travelling between Djibouti City and Hargeisa in Somaliland, but it is a rough 20 hour ride at least, sometimes taking over two days. Crossing is at Loyaada. You are able to travel by your own car but it's not recommended.
From Jijiga in Ethiopia there is in fact regular bus traffic to the border town of Wajaale. taking about two hours. Get stamped out at the Ethiopian immigration office and cross into Somaliland and go to the immigration shack, where your passport will be stamped and your visa checked. From here, taxi's and minibuses go to Hargeisa (two hours). Expect a couple of checkpoints, but no hassles.
It won't come as a surprise that there are no international passenger services and due to safety reasons (piracy mainly) it's not advised to try your luck anyway getting here by any boat at all.
Jubba Airways flies between Hargeisa, Mogadishu and Bosaso.
If you want to travel outside the area around Hargeisa, for example to Berbera, you are recommended to get a car with a driver, self driving is not recommended. Traffic drives on the right and you need an international driving permit if you insist on driving yourself. Still, you really need a guide and it is safer as well.
It is not advised to drive anywhere outside Somaliland as it is dangerous and roads are in a desperate need of repair.
Several buses and minibuses travel the Hargeisa to Berbera route and a few other smaller places. Outside Somaliland though, services are almost non-existent due to the political state of anarchy.
Although there are several port, there are no regular passenger services between places and the waters around Somalia are prone to pirates.
Entry will be refused to citizens of Israel and to those who show stamps and/or visas from Israel.
There are separate visa regulations for Somaliland, Puntland and the remaining part of Somalia where Mogadishu is located. For the latter, a visa prior to arrival is required. For Puntland, you can get one upon arrival at the respective airport. For Somaliland (relatively safe, most visitors go here) you need to apply for a visa at one of the Somaliland Embassies though usually you can get one upon arrival at the airport or the main border crossings.
See also Money Matters
The currency used in Somalia (except Somaliland) is the Somali shilling. Currently only the SOS1000 note is used.
Somali is the official language in Somalia. However, Arabic is spoken by many and represents a secondary language. As the Somalis are almost exclusively Sunni Muslims, Somali has borrowed much religious terminology from Arabic, although there are also Persian or Arabic loan words for everyday objects (e.g. Somali albab-ka (the door), from the Arabic الباب al baab). While the southern part of the country was a former protectorate and colony of Italy, it is unclear just how much Italian is still spoken. Many Somalis speak English to communicate with the people who generally handle all of the menial jobs in their country. If you can learn a few words of Somali, your hosts and any other locals that you may meet will be very impressed and appreciative.
Somali meals are meat driven, vegetarianism is relatively rare. Goat, beef, lamb and sometimes chicken is fried in ghee, or grilled or broiled. It is spiced with turmeric, coriander, cumin and curry and eaten with basmati rice for lunch, dinner and sometimes breakfast.
Vegetables appear to largely be side dishes, and often are woven into a meat dish, such as combining potatoes, carrots and peas with meat and making a stew. Green peppers, spinach and garlic were also noted as the types of vegetables most commonly eaten. Bananas, dates, apples, oranges, pears and grapes are among some of the more popular fruits (a raw, sliced banana is often eaten with rice). But in Somalia, Somalis had a much larger selection of fruits - like mango and guava - from which they would make fresh juice. Somali stores, therefore, carry among the widest selection of fruit juices, both Kern1s juices as well as imports from India and Canada. And there is also a selection of instant juice: frozen or available as a powder.
The overriding characteristic of the Somali diet is that it consists of halal foods (Arabic for "allowable" as opposed to haram: "prohibited"). Somalis are Muslims and under Islamic Law (or Shar'1ah), pork and alcohol are not allowed.
Other common foods include a type of homemade bread called injera (like a large, spongy pancake) and sambusas (like the Indian samosas), which are deep-fried triangular-shaped pastries filled with meat or vegetables.
The cuisine of Somalia varies from region to region and consists of an exotic mixture of native Somali,Yemeni, Persian, Turkish, Indian and Italian influences. It is the product of Somalia's rich tradition of trade and commerce. Despite the variety, there remains one thing that unites the various regional cuisines: all food is served halal.
Bosaso and Hargeisa have some Western-level hotels.
Somalis adore spiced tea. A minority of Somalis drink a tea similar to Turkish tea which they brought from Middle eastern countries to their homeland. However, the majority drink a traditional and cultural tea known as Shah Hawaash because it is made of cardamom (in Somali, Xawaash or Hayle} and cinnamon bark (in Somali, Qoronfil).
Islam forbids alcohol and Somalia follows this rather strictly. If you do find some, don't show it or drink it in public, as there's a strong chance that you could offend, cause a scene and may even be punished by authorities.
As for the coffee (kahwa) itself, try mirra, made in the Somali style. Sometimes spiced with cardamom, it's strong and tastes great, particularly drunk with fresh dates. Tea (chai) usually comes with dollops of sugar and perhaps a few mint leaves (na'ana).
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is required upon entering Somalia when you have been in a yellow fever country within 7 days of entering Somalia. Still, it is recommended you get the yellow fever vaccination anyway. You have to have a cholera stamp (prove of the fact that you don't have that desease) when entering overland.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Somalia. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people. A term of 6 weeks applies between December and June.
Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Dengue is present in and around urban areas or other populated areas.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Except for stable Somaliland, Somalia is currently a war zone and remains extremely dangerous for independent travel or sightseeing due to armed conflict between Government forces and various warlords/factions (including al-Qaeda–linked terror group al-Shabab). People kidnapped from Kenya and vessels captured by pirates are held in Somalia. The current government structure was established only in 2012, following fair success in the fight against al-Shabab and an improvement safety-wise in the cities in 2011-12. Those visiting for business, research or international aid purposes should consult with their organization and seek expert guidance before planning a trip.
The de facto independent Somaliland is a stunning contrast. With a decent government structure in place and less violence, it is safer for travel, although both the US and UK governments advise against it. Tourists in Somaliland are required to be accompanied by armed guards outside the capital Hargeisa because of the damage the potential kidnapping/killing of a foreign tourist would have to its reputation. Puntland is also de facto independent, but lacks a significant government and, despite much violence, is home to rival warlords and is not safe for independent travel.
Wireless service and Internet cafés are available in some cities.
See also International Telephone Calls
Somalia's international telephone code is 252.
Local cellular telephone systems have been established in Mogadishu and in several other population centres. International connections are available from Mogadishu by satellite. International outgoing connections also work from the cellular infrastructure.
Somalia has the cheapest cellular calling rates on the continent, with some companies charging less than the equivalent of one US cent per minute.
Local postal services are available in Somaliland, but it's a bit of a hit or miss whether your postcard or letter arrives. For parcels, it's best to send it from an other country.
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