Foreign Office advises against travel to Somaliland, but it is safe and ripe for tourism and business development insists Eid Ali Ahmed
Every time a story about Somali pirates hits the news, Eid Ali Ahmed cringes.
Arriving in Cardiff as a refugee in 1987 he’s working hard to alter perceptions of his now much-changed home country, Somaliland.
Just back from a nine-month visit, Eid wants the world to know the north and the south of the country we collectively know as Somalia, are different.
The north, where he comes from, declared itself independent from Somalia back in 1991 and, while the international community has failed to recognise Somaliland as a country in its own right, it has been quietly building a safe, peaceful democracy ever since, Eid explains.
The 63-year-old, who helped found the Wales Refugee Council, insists: “There are no pirates and no terrorists in Somaliland. It is peaceful and stable; we have a constitution, universities, our own police, currency and military.”
Like most of the estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Somalis living in South Wales, the former banker comes from the north which was a British protectorate before being given independence and being joined up with the south, a former Italian colony, to create Somalia in 1960.
After a military coup in 1969 the country was declared a socialist republic and civil war broke out with violence in the south ever since.
To the north, where most of Cardiff’s Somalis come from, it is a very different story, Eid says.
Here you can idle hours away with friends in the many tea houses, wander the souks, study at one of four universities, spend an afternoon at the coast, eat out in the beach side fish restaurants or spend a day in the country.
At Laas Gaal near the capital, Hargeisa there’s is a network of caves containing some of the earliest known cave paintings in Africa, estimated to date back 9,000 years.
“It is a country ripe for tourism,” Eid says.
Raised in a middle class family, he was forced to flee his home country in 1981 after joining the Somali Liberation Movement which eventually ousted the dictator Said Barre in 1991. With his life threatened, Eid fled to work abroad, eventually coming to Wales as a refugee.
In the last 20 years he’s been campaigning to have Somaliland recognised, saying that although there has been violence in the south where the capital Mogadishu is legendary for lawlessness, the north has changed.
“The problem is the international community refuses to recognise Somaliland as a country, continuing to see Somalia as one country and all the problems that brings with it.
“As Somaliland is not recognised as a country it doesn’t get international aid and people there can’t get passports and travel.
“There is frustration that without investment the economy is bad so the educated young people are leaving and there’s a brain drain.”
Determined to change things, he and members of the Somali community here are campaigning to have the country recognised by lobbying governments in Europe and the UK.
Eid, who has an MBA and is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personal Development, works for Somaliland Societies in Europe and UK, an organisation trying to raise awareness among politicians and public.
He says Somaliland is full of business opportunity if investors could be encouraged by the international community recognising it as a country separate from Somalia.
During his recent visit, Eid met with business people, academics and members of the government and organised a business conference attended by hundreds of delegates at Somaliland’s universities.
“The world focuses on the piracy and terrorism in the south,” he regrets.
“But there has been no conflict in the north for five years. You can fly into the main city of Hargeisa with no problems.
“Visit Hargeisa in the summer and you’ll hear Cardiff accents everywhere,” he adds.
Those who fled previous violence to make new lives in Wales return for holidays to visit family and some have gone back to set up businesses, he says.
“The young people go back in the summer and there are Cardiff accents in the tea houses,” he laughs.
“It is a wonderful place to visit, so beautiful and the food is good, grilled fish, curries, fruits and vegetables.”
Cardiff Somalis recently raised $25,000 to build a road from Hargeisa to neighbouring Djibouti, and have helped build schools and health centres.
“Last month a meeting of the community here in Cardiff agreed to help raise funds to build anther road from the second capital city,” says Eid.
“People want to help and contribute. We’re trying to encourage people to invest more because that’s the only way things will get better.
“Somaliland has archeology going back before the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs.
“Farms grow everything from water melon to maize and millet, we have natural resources to be self sufficient and could export food with investment, but instead we are importing it.
“We could easily be a tourist destination. There are beautiful beaches, places to dive and things to see.
“It’s a virgin country to discover and the country is stable.”
The official British Foreign Office line advises strongly against visiting however, stating: “There is a high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping, throughout Somalia, including Somaliland.”
Eid is frustrated by this.
“I flew in and visited Somaliland with no problem,” he says. “In the north it is easy going. Walk the streets and you can stop in cafes and tea houses. Because it was a British colony the language is English as well as Somali so it’s not hard to be understood.”
Eid Ali Ahmed Chartered Fellow CIPD, MBA, PGCE
For more details, visit www.somalilandtour.com