Somaliland, the state that doesn’t officially exist, is the glimmer of hope in East Africa – a photo tableau by François X. Klei

Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991, but it is not recognized by any country in the world. Nevertheless, some things are going better there than with its neighbor (Somalia).

The parking lot where the child is turning is in a country that doesn’t officially exist. The setting is the “Guled Hotel” in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, an autonomous region on the extreme tip of East Africa. In 1991 it had declared independence from Somalia. Today it is a so-called de facto state with its own government, army and currency, the Somaliland shilling. According to international law, Somaliland still belongs to Somalia; no country in the world recognizes it, only eight countries accept its passports. Somaliland, which the photographer François Klein has explored, often lacks the bare essentials. In 2014, the World Bank estimated that almost 40 per cent of the population in rural areas is poor. Nevertheless, the self-proclaimed republic has a fairly well-functioning democracy and a relatively stable economic system. Somalia is considered a “failed state”, Somaliland is a model for success. For this very reason, former emigrants like Ali Guled often return home. He used to live in Texas and was active in the oil industry. In Hargeisa, he founded the “Guled Hotel”, which is also a business center for investors. They are extremely important for Somaliland: due to the lack of international recognition, there is hardly any development aid and must itself ensure that money comes into the country. Somaliland actually has a relatively well-functioning bureaucracy today. It is therefore very attractive for investors. For this very reason, former emigrants like Ali Guled often return home. He used to live in Texas and was active in the oil industry.

View of Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. It wasn’t long ago that the city was completely destroyed. After the dictator Siad Barre came to power in Somalia at the end of the 1970s, he brought the entire country under his control and, above all, struck the north, where Hargeisa is located, by force. In 1988 he bombed the city. Hargeisa was largely destroyed, around 50,000 civilians were killed. In 1991, rebels drove Somali troops out of Somaliland and overthrew the dictator. Shortly thereafter, the region declared independence. Reconstruction of Hargeisa began after 1991, financed mainly by local donors and donations from the diaspora.

After the port city of Berbera, Hargeisa is now Somaliland’s second largest business location. How many inhabitants the city has nobody knows exactly. Calculations from 2017 assume around 861,000 people, other estimates also from more than one million. In contrast to Mogadiscio, the capital of Somalia, you can move around freely in Hargeisa, the terrorist militia al-Shabab usually carries out attacks in the south.

The photo shows life in the city: there are restaurants and cafes, a lot is improvised. The country’s pride and joy is the annual international book fair. a lot is improvised.

Bashir Hussain has taken a seat in the Chamber of Elders of the Somaliland Parliament. The Parliament consists of two chambers: the House of Representatives, whose deputies elect the people, and the Council of Elders, in which the presidents of the different clans sit. The region has been shaped by large historical families, the clans, for centuries. Their leaders have enormous influence and simple conflicts. Somaliland is progressive and backward at the same time. Free elections have taken place several times since 1991 when it declared independence, and an iris scan procedure in the recent 2017 presidential election prevented voters from voting twice.

However, the fact that the election had been postponed for two years had provoked anger among the population, and the government reacted very severely to the protests. Little else is contradicted: a writer was arrested in 2019 because he called for the reform of the prison and criminal justice system in a poem; three other men were detained for Facebook posts critical of the government.

Since Islam is the state religion, women have little to say and are also underrepresented in politics. 98 percent of women and girls are circumcised. Since 2018, genital mutilation has been a criminal offence, and the same applies to the practice of sexual violence. women have little to say and are also underrepresented in politics.

A young shepherd near his makeshift camp in Somaliland. More than half of the population are nomads. Every year they go with their goats, sheep and camels from northeast Ethiopia to the ports on the Gulf of Aden, from where the animals are exported, especially to Saudi Arabia. Many families have lived this life for generations. Everyday life in the community welds them together, the loyalty to each other is great.

Experts suspect that these solid structures are one reason why Somaliland is relatively stable. When it was still part of Great Britain, the colonial masters hardly intervened in the traditional structures. The Somali clans were able to preserve something of their own identity – in contrast to the southern part of Somalia, where the Italian colonialists intervened significantly more. Even though these traditional ties in Somaliland are still very strong today, it is by no means certain that they will remain so in the future. Young Somalis seek happiness abroad, and even though many of them still feel connected to their homeland, there is a tendency for this loyalty to weaken. The western way of life with its pursuit of individual happiness penetrates even the remotest regions of East Africa – and it is a remarkable coincidence that the boy already has this claim to happiness on his skin. and even if many of them still feel connected to their homeland, there is a tendency for this loyalty to weaken.

Agricultural science students visit the Horn Gardens agricultural project in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. It was founded about five years ago and is designed to promote modern and sustainable agriculture. Agriculture is important for Somaliland. The main crops are sorghum and corn. Perishable fruits and vegetables have to be imported, however, and the consequences of climate change can also be clearly felt.

Droughts used to be ten or fifteen years apart, said Environment and Agriculture Minister Shukri Ismail Bandare, “But now they occur so regularly that people can no longer cope with it.” If it does rain, the rainfall is sometimes so strong that entire regions are flooded. Horn Gardens is located in Arrayambo outside of Hargeisa. It all started with a greenhouse, now there are four. An area of ​​fourteen hectares is cultivated on which tomatoes, cucumbers and orange trees grow, among other things. Farmers can buy fertilizers and irrigation systems there, as well as attend training courses. Hundreds of greenhouses have already been built in Somaliland.

According to the founders, the country should be able to feed itself in the future. Somaliland, which not only shows “Horn Gardens”, is a country that wants to grow from below.

Pictures François X. Klein

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