Somaliland – Is It Safe?

Welcoming smile - Hargeisa, Somaliland

Welcoming smile – Hargeisa, Somaliland

My visit over the Christmas-New Year period in 2013-2014 demonstrated that Somaliland is one of the safest countries I have ever visited.  Hargeisa is extremely secure – money changers can leave a fortune of cash on the streets without any weapon or guards and not fear theft. Elsewhere in the country mirrored that same feeling of safety and security.

One is supposed to take an armed Special Protection Officer (SPU) when travelling away from Hargeisa, but for everywhere I travelled, this seemed unnecessary. The area from Hargeisa to both Ethiopian and Djubouti borders and the road to Burao via Berbera are very safe. Beyond that (into Evergaro and close to the Puntland and Somalia borders) a SPU is recommended.

Alcohol is prohibited in Somaliland, so you are not going to be approached by some aggressive drunk on the streets. However, khat, the mildly hallucinogenic plant seems to be most popular pastime amongst the majority of males in Somaliland.  This does make for some interesting conversations at times, though none of it threatening.

Two cautions for travellers. Firstly, a very small minority of people (especially older) are suspicious of cameras, and I was approached by a couple of individuals who informed me that I either needed a permit to take photos (false) or that photography was entirely prohibited (also false). Don’t let this worry you too much, for more sensible local people will intervene on your behalf if you look as if you are being hassled. My usual rule for photography is to ask permission before taking any photographs but I extended that in Somaliland and only took photographs if I was requested.

The biggest problem I encountered was at the Ministry of Tourism.  A senior employee, Abdisalam Shabeelle, ordered me to book a tour through the hotel I was staying at in order to obtain a travel permit for outside of Hargeisa. Every other traveller I met in the country was given the permit without being forced to choose a specific tour provider. See Somaliland – Practical Information on how to avoid this problem. This was a major difficulty for a local friend had already organised local transport and a SPU. After explaining what happened my friend organised for me to meet the Minister of Interior, who granted me permission (and his personal SPU) to travel around limited areas of the country. A generous gesture since Abdisalam imposed such unfair conditions.

Abdisalam was not happy with this, so he came to my hotel to demand that I leave the country and when I refused he fulfilled his vow that he would organise for the immigration authorities to take me to their office for a visa check in the hope that I would be deported. This involved almost half an hour of questioning from three senior immigration officers, and since my papers were in order, they let me remain in the country. If you can avoid Abdisalam Shabeelle then best to do so (difficult as he is holds a senior position) because if you do not agree to his arbitrary demands, he proves to be a spiteful individual.

My nearly two weeks in Somaliland exposed me to probably the friendliest people I have ever encountered (pushing Iraq for that title).  The biggest issue you will face in Somaliland is the threat of being overwhelmed by the hospitality!

If you wish to visit Somaliland, it is important to read the following  – but remember to read information applying to Somaliland and not Somalia:

Lonely Planet Tripadvisor  UK FCO