Emily will be writing about her experience in Somaliland and will be offering tips to anyone who may want to visit the unrecognized republic along the way – discover Somaliland from a Non-Somali perspective. This is her fourth article – Perception versus Reality.

First article: Click Here
Second article: Click here
Third Article: Click here

Hargeisa, Jul 2, 2009 — Tempting as it is to disprove the false and generally negative images of Somaliland worldwide, which are plentiful, I find myself struggling to find a balance between writing only about positive aspects of the country, and thus overlooking some less attractive truths of this very real place, while at the same time I am hesitant to say anything that may be perceived as negative because I want to promote this country which is housing me, feeding me, and caring for my life. Ultimately I have decided to try my best to leave my (positive) biases at the door, because if I don’t expand on the aspects of Somaliland that could be improved upon, I am cheating you, not being true to myself, and also could be hurting the country. It is with these thoughts in mind that I continue to type. I will also keep posting pictures so you can see for yourself those beautiful and ugly things which I am recounting.

I think you will be happy to know that I just returned from my first visit outside of Hargeisa. I spent 6 days in the “wild west” along with my co-workers, which was a great opportunity to learn more about the political and social dynamics of Somaliland and to talk openly about the elections which are scheduled to take place in September. As you may know, the elections have already been postponed and the current president (Dahir Rayaale) has been in power for seven years. The more people I talk to, the more I realize how few people trust or support the current regime for various reasons, including its lackadaisical attitude, corruption, and false promises. At the same time, Rayaale has not been causing physical harm to the people, there have been no killings or false arrests or things like that, peace is real, and so the Somaliland community at large is sitting back, afraid to disturb the peace because they know what war is. So it is a strange situation, where most people have lost faith in the government, even strongly oppose it, but they are willing to sacrifice anything—including employment, education, health services, and economic development— to preserve peace. I am not sure what this will mean for the upcoming elections, but I guess they will reveal themselves in the upcoming months.

Now that I’ve put the heavy stuff out in the open, let me tell you a story. Last week I was complaining to a friend of mine that there are no girls playing sports here, and I feel like I will get fat just sitting, working, eating, and sometimes walking. He told me that was not true, that just next to my office there is a place where girls play basketball. I thought he was joking, but sure enough he took me to this club and we saw about 20 girls donned in hijabs playing basketball, really going at it, and also playing soccer on the other side of the court. I wanted to go join them but I felt too shy. My friend was insistent though, he motioned at one of the girls and she walked over and greeted us. She took me by the hand and practically dragged me into the sports club, and after a few minutes I felt happy and comfortable and even got my hands on the ball. It was great fun—we played a full game, just girls, and they thought it was so funny when I scored. I agreed to come every week to play with them, and intend to keep my word.

Finally, some pictures and commentary. The first picture shows the landscape and some traditional Somali houses—or “aqal Soomaali”. Around the houses are small bushes which are prickly, and people dry their clothes on them because even strong winds do not force the clothes off of the bushes.

aqal Soomaali
aqal Soomaali

The next picture is scenery from the drive between Borame and Baki, where there are beautiful layers of mountains and because this region gets more rain, you can see greenery and farms. There are few areas in Somaliland that support farming, and historically the population is a nomadic one, reliant mostly on cattle and grazing. In fact, the slogan for all Somalis is “nabad iyo caano” which means “peace and milk”. It is a very accurate phrase which reflects the necessities for a good life. For a foreigner the word “peace” is obvious, but why “milk”? Well, if your camels produce large quantities of milk, not only can it sustain you and also be sold, but it means the land is fertile; there is water and abundant rains. So you have enough to live off of economically and physically, and now you just need peace.

Borama mountains
Borama mountains

In contrast to the beautiful and natural mountains, and as one person commented in my last article, it is impossible to ignore the piles of trash scattered about. One reflection of the weak government and perhaps finances is the lack of planned trash disposal or collection in Somaliland. I still feel guilty every time I litter, even though it is the only way to dispose of trash.

So I included this picture of the trash mountains in Borama, which are next to a busy soccer field, in an area of stunning natural beauty.

Mountains of trash around Borama
Mountains of trash around Borama

It is my hope that trash collection will improve here, as it could provide a lot of jobs aside from the obvious health and environmental benefits, but I also know that I have been to other countries with the same problem, and the fact is that when you are worrying about finding employment and safety and caano, trash collection is not the first thing on your “to do” list.

Finally, I included a picture of downtown Borama to give you an illustration of a different city. Both Hargeisa and Borama are constantly bustling, the restaurants don’t close until after 11pm and there are always people socializing on the streets.

Borama city - capital of Awdal, once the powerful Adal kingdom that ruled horn of Africa including Ethiopia
Borama city – capital of Awdal, once the powerful Adal kingdom that ruled horn of Africa including Ethiopia

That’s all for now. I hope you have enjoyed reading.

Until next time,



  1. younis you are right walahi it is time to change Mr. Jicir. Hussain Maxmood Jicir is always pretending to be busy with the garbage collection from the close small villages to hargaysa. i was trying to get in touch with him for about a month and all my efforts gone with the wind.

  2. Emily you did fantastic job! You went there to get experience at first hand and on your way I know alot of people including your Somali friends and family said to you to keep them posted and share photos and stories with them – I think the right thing to do is show them the true image, the good, the bad, the beauty and the ugly.

    For those of them demanding on only one side story they are as biased as those Western media that only report the ugly of Africa – therefore dont listen to them. They can always have an imaginary Somaliland thats perfect in their minds – their own perception.

    Report whatever your eyes are drawn to feel free like a bird, Somalilanders like me appreciate the truth, the trash is a problem and we need to solve it.

  3. Iam unsettled with your report on Borama. Infact, your camera seemed to focus the unpleasant sites in the town. I also upset why the city council cannot see the garbage in their town. Where is the regular household garbage truck that dumped and hauled the waste in to the intended places.

    You call our attention to the poor condition in Borama city, Iam sure that the local government will understand the message of Sister Emily.

    I hope these bad images can be improved for the benefit of all concerned

    Farhan(oday), is a social worker and student at University of Hargeisa, Somaliland

    • Mr Farhan, there is nothing wrong with Emily's camera, blame the city council, you should thank Emily she is bring this to the surface and now people can see it and do something about it.

      Is Hargeisa any better since you there or you just step off it and brush it to the side? I hope that's not the case.

      Somaliland needs to ban plastic bags and impose it properly since they cant even seem to take care of it. Rubbish is like flowers.

      How come Hargeisa had Mr Jicir as mayor since 1991? You guys need new city mayor and get rid off all these old school guys, they don't do any thing the only minister I admire is Ali Mohamed (ina Waran Cade) or Minister of Aviation atleast he tries.

  4. I totally agreed with Yosnis, and couldn't add more. To emily you are star!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Emily,

    I am curious, what was the reasons for you to be in Somaliland in first place? Secondly, as someone who is from a developed world, why don't you be a good role model by trying not to dump your trash on the street but by putting your trash in a plastic bag and dump it in a place you think is an appropiate or create one for the Society, maybe this might be one of your contribution.

  6. Thanks Emily,

    If you get the time I would suggest you visit my hometown of Barbara , which has stunning beaches and historic buildings and landmarks.

    Trash is a problem all over Somaliland , I have been to Booraama and I love its scenery but I agree the trash it is worst then most towns….. Reer Booraama should fire their mayor.

  7. hey Emily..!!
    goodness you are doing a great work as many wouldn't do the same in respect to the fact that we are from there and am sure many will know it's true..Ofcourse you wont show the seriously injured you've seen or the life impoverished but for those photos you have managed to post with self conscience, I appreciate. thanx again..and hope you have a wonderful experience on the beautiful continent. what you are seeing there goes beyond those boarders into other countries. but we love Africa.
    Julius Lusse

  8. Another great post Emily, you finally made it outside Hargeisa. These plastic bags are really damaging the environment, in some places, specially in Hargeisa, you may find 20 plastic bags on one tree, all different colours. We need to recycle them – may be there is no one to do that. People just keep importing them and they end up places like that which is a real eyesore. You must have seen other eyesore or hazardous things like the mesh of entangled telephone and electricity cables in downtown Hargeisa and ask where is the Health and Safety ….. None.

  9. I think we need to have environmental organisations and bring on board international organisations specially ones from United States, United Kingdom and Malaysia. What I like about Americans is that when they make a promise they keep their promise and do something about it, where as the other developed nations are all just talk and promises – Americans will go and do something about it where others afraid to do something about it.

    There are so many environmental groups who be more than happy to be in Somaliland to do something about these, and as for trash bins thats easy, they just need to shop in China theres alot of innovative products in China thats available for reasonable prices.

    I suggest you develop contacts with environmental groups, greens, recyclers, etc.

  10. Thats what the place is thats what she seen there is nothing wrong with taking pictures of the ugly, just clean the place up and do something about it, you cant forever keep hiding it while the place smells like a trash.

    Good Emily

  11. I totally agree with Farhan and Obsiye. I mean no one really asked you to post beautiful pictures. I can go to Boston and take pictures of areas that are not so pleasant and post them but it would not be objective. What you've done wrong is show a person such as myself the negative aspects of both cities and for that it's upsetting. You also have to understand many of us have not been to these cities and your pictures don't do them justice. If you ask me Emily, your articles are DISSAPOINTING.

    • Hello to Mahad and other critics,
      I welcome your feedback. I believe I am showing beautiful parts of Somaliland, which as I have expressed is a great country. In fact of all the pictures I posted I believe only one (the trash image) is negative. I also think it is important to illustrate so that people know the realities here. The other images show the real and positive sides of the country, and reflect how it's rebuilt itself since the 1991 and thereafter. I encourage you to open yourself up to see both sides. If you have any suggestions where to take more "positive pictures" let me know. I am here and ready. Just returned from Berbera.

      • Don't mind them, how was your trip to Berbera? From what I seen it looks like a ghost town, it seems hot, badly managed though it has great potentials. I personally like the Sheekh town in the mountainous region.

  12. Hello Emily :
    I along the rest of the world have heard from you lately, I hope you're doing fine, could you please give us an update, regarding you well being and the general hospitality of Somaliland people.


  13. Thanks Emily, great post! My Somalilanders, for heaven sake Rome wasn’t built in a day. We need to see the ugly and the glorious in Somaliland. The trash is every where from Borama to Burao and in between. Did you see the beautiful buildings that house garbage around their perimeters? Yes, the Government needs to address the sanitation issues. Does it have enough resources to maintain peace and at the same time have spotless cities without any recognition of Somaliland? Remember also the election campaign is on the horizon, and everyone is hoarding their meager resources for the upcoming election. Almost everyone in Hargeisa is busy chasing money being given out by the parties buying votes. Chasing the dollar and chewing khat become the daily preoccupation – not trash (ask Nakruma Ka’an). Remember trash is not unique to us, in America the cities where minority is the majority, the sanitation is just as bad or worse. As you may know many dangerous trash incinerators are located in those poor communities. Anyway, I am encouraged that the discussion is not about violence and percolating of large-scale war, as is the case in Somalia, but is about improving the lives of Somaliland people who live in a peaceful oasis. Finally to be fair to my America, many parts of Europe are just as trashy. Read this link

  14. Hi Emely, wonderfull articles to show the world that Somaliland exist. Hey dont blame Emely for this Rubbish, blame the plastic bags and the city councils of Hargeissa, Borama, Gabiley, Burco, Berbera, Cergaabo, las-canood…etc. Emely did you visited Arabsiyo and Gabiley during your trip to Borama and eating the fresh fruits there ? thank you.

    • Nassirow, I did buy some fruit (very juicy and inexpensive mangos) from the women in the streets of Gabiley. Drove straight throguh Arabsiyo though. Thanks for reading!

  15. Hi Emely, wonderfull articles to show the world that Somaliland exist. Hey dont blame Emely for this Rubbish, blame the plastic bags and the city councils of Hargeissa, Borama, Gabiley, Burco, Berbera, Cergaabo, las-canood…etc. Emely did you visited Arabsiyo and Gabiley during your trip to Borama and eating the fresh fruits there ? thank you.