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June 3, 2011 / calebdresser

The Thirteenth Nation

My last few hours in Dubai are drawing to a close, and it’s time to face up to where I’m going. Somaliland – which is still part of Somalia as far as the UN and every sovereign nation on the planet is concerned – will be the thirteenth foreign country I’ve visited. I didn’t even realize this until I had to list places I’d traveled to on my application to a program at UMass last night. Lucky thirteen, right? Too late to turn back now.

Somaliland is a fledgling success story in a part of the world that has become famous for its failures. It emerged as a self-declared nation in the aftermath of a bloody civil war in 1991, and its leaders, both tribal and otherwise, went about setting up a constitution-based democracy while the rest of Somalia slid into the cycle of anarchy and violence from which it has yet to emerge. Somaliland has witnessed peaceful democratic elections, non-violent transitions of power between different political parties, and managed to distance itself from piracy, warlords, and violent Islam. Nonprofit organizations are operating within its borders working on issues from agriculture to health-care to literacy, and it now boasts a handful of universities and an expanding commercial sector.Nonetheless, Somaliland is a small strip of stability in a dangerous neighborhood. To the east is Puntland, the semi-autonomous part of Somalia from which most of the pirate attacks gripping headlines in recent years have originated. To the west are Ethiopia and Eritrea, still resolving issues of their own, and to the northwest is Djibouti. Across the Gulf of Aden is Yemen, which hovers on the brink of civil war, and five hundred miles to the south is Mogadishu, the most dangerous city on the planet and the site of the infamous Black Hawk Down episode two decades ago. Much of southern Somalia is controlled by an extremist Islamic faction known as Al-Shabab, which is beleived to have links to Al-Qaeda. American warships patrol offshore.

Somaliland’s success as a representative democracy in this part of the world is all the more impressive in that it has set up the institutions of government, held elections, and imposed the rule of law without significant outside assistance. It has not yet been recognized by a single country, and as a result is unable to obtain the UN, IMF, and other types of loans and aid most very poor nations rely on. It was a homegrown democracy on the edge of the Middle East well before the Arab Spring, yet it remains officially part of Somalia in they eyes of the world. Understandably, obtaining international recognition remains one of the foremost political goals of the current government.My travels in Somaliland will be limited by both circumstance and common sense. Tomorrow I will fly from Dubai to Berbera, on the Gulf of Aden, and thence to the capital, Hargeisa. There, if all goes according to plan, I will obtain the visa that has been arranged for me and meet a driver from Edna’s hospital. After that, I will be living and working on the hospital compound, which is located just south of the city center. From there, I hope to explore Hargeisa during any moments of free time, though as I have yet to find out what exactly I will doing at the hospital, it’s a bit hard to predict how much of this I will have.



Leave a Comment
  1. Peter Hobbs / Jun 5 2011 1:30 am

    Wow!! Must have been the confidence of your India trip that has infected you wilth travel fever. Great to be included in your travel blog. All is well with me as the new replacement for Terry Tucker. If you ever come to Ithaca let’s eat. Cheers Peter

  2. Margaret McCandless / Jun 5 2011 3:21 pm

    Your writing continues to be wonderful. Thank you for resuming making it available to us all. Your photos are again a very rich part of your blog.
    Given that you have a home country, you are allowed to count it in among places you go, so that Somaliland is your 14th country to be in. Not that we worry about numbers; just sayin’.
    Love from all back here.

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