Saturday, March 10, 2012
I mentioned would-be capital Hargeisa already: would-be capital of the Republic of Somaliland. Somaliland in one of the three parts that officially makes up Somalia, the others being Puntland, and the part that gets so often in the news, the southern part of Somalia (let me call this rump-Somalia). Puntland and rump-Somalia are both previous Italian colonies, Puntland is the pirate paradise, somehow semi-autonomous from the rump Somalia, thanks to its healthy and ever growing foreign exchange reserves, and rump-Somalia is now the prototype of a failed state (the past link with Italy is, of course, totally coincidental and the failed state part nothing to do with the colonial past; after all, the other Italian colony in the Horn, Eritrea, is an exemplary country, no?). Somaliland, however, is the former British colony. It was lumped with the rest of Somalia after the Brits left, but then declared its independence from increasingly dysfunctional Somalia in 1991, after a nasty war – every war in this part of the world seems nasty. It has since had several apparently fair and honest elections, has its own government and police force, its own central bank, its own currency, and for all intents and purposes operates as an independent country - except that nobody has yet recognized it. To visit Somaliland, you need a Somaliland visa, which can be issued in Addis Ababa (and perhaps London and Washington, but that seems less reliable).
So one of the first things we did when we arrived in Addis Ababa a month ago was in fact ensuring our Somaliland visa. We managed to find the embassy cum chancellery cum official residence without much difficulty, thanks to good signposting. Inside the compound, the visa section actually operates out of the residency’s garage. The whole process went very smooth, except that the validity of the issued visa turned out to expire before we actually planned to enter the country. When I commented on this, the first response was to use some Tippex – for my younger readers, this is liquid paper used for corrections in the era of typewriters… what are typewriters? Well, ask your parents – Tippex, thus, over the original dates and then write the new dates in, on the Tippex. Right! When I carefully asked if this would not pose problems at the border, the visa assistant first said “I hope not…”, and then, luckily, agreed that it would perhaps be better to issue a new visa – which was issued just as speedily as the first one. And it worked.And now we are in Hargeisa…
the Somaliland embassy - or rather, liaison office - signposted in Addis Ababa