Would you vacation in Somalia? Given Somalia’s image (and reality) as an ungovernable failed state locked in perpetual violence, the answer is obvious.
But last week Peter Buttitigieg and Nathaniel Meyers report they walked through the market (it sounds like Berbera) and drove around in a battered pickup truck to see rock paintings in the desert in the Republic of Somaliland.
It’s a unique and provocative report from the unrecognized, autonomous, self-governing territory north of Somalia, a place few people have heard of.
Buttitigieg says a democratically elected government is functioning despite desperate poverty and lack of recognition by the U.S., Europe and the African Union. Paradoxically, it’s what the Horn of Africa, especially Somalia, needs.
But, to call it a paradox is deep understatement. The Republic of Somaliland has been functioning as a democracy since 1991 without recognition, not because it’s unknown but because it’s the policy of the AU, US and EU. There are many reasons, not the least of which is that the Republic constituted itself and has gone about its business without acceding to requests by the international community for it to dissolve and merge with the rest of the anarchic territory to the south.
Therefore, even with its record of success, it presents all kinds of problems to Africa and the world community. Tenuous borders were drawn by colonial administrators who disregarded land use patterns by various tribes. These are still an inflammatory issue.
The war between Eritrea and Ethiopia is a recent reminder. Competing claims on the Ogaden within the borders of Ethiopia but used by ethnic Somalis is another.
In addition, tenuous elections have put people in charge who hold on through coercion, finesse and, sometimes, force.
Many feel that self-constituted autonomy opens a Pandora’s box that could lead to more problems than solutions. So the Republic remains incognito.
Never the less, Buttitigieg and Meyers provoke interesting reflection on the Republic of Somaliland and whether it should be ignored by the rest of the world. I have a T-shirt that says, “I vacationed in Mogadishu and lived to tell about it.” Buttitigieg and Meyers don’t claim the Republic is a tourist destination, but given the instability to the south they ask if the world should take a second look at the Republic of Somaliland and re-consider its invisible status.