Somaliland has achieved what neighboring Somalia has failed to do for years: peace, stability, an end to terror – and that with almost no international help.
How does it work?
Pizzerias, burger shops and cafés with barista lattes have been around for a long time. You can even get Ikea shelves here in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, one of the poorest countries in the world.
In rural regions, large parts of the population are acutely threatened by hunger, there are hardly any paved roads, the power supply is poor and health care is practically non-existent. But compared to neighboring Somalia , the boom is enormous.
In Hargeisa, construction is going on everywhere, with residential areas on the outskirts, hotels, office towers and bank buildings in the center. Budget spending is relatively clear and transparent and there are regular democratic elections. So far, the change of office has gone smoothly even if the opposition came to power.
In the eyes of the world, the small republic with its around 3.5 million inhabitants belongs to Somalia, a failed state in the Horn of Africa , where pirates and terrorist militias have been fighting for power with corrupt politicians and armed gangs for years. But while the civil war in Somalia does not end, there is peace in Somaliland. While Somalia does not get on its feet despite billions in international aid, there is a largely functioning tax system, police and army.
Ex-Foreign Minister and midwife Edna Adan in her private rooms at her hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland
Edna Adan Ismail can explain what works better here and what works differently here. The former foreign minister is not only the most important voice in the struggle for Somaliland to be recognized as an independent state – the 83-year-old is also the best example of some of what is going well in the small nation.
Like so many, she had to leave her homeland during the war with neighboring Somalia in the late 1980s. And like so many, she has returned. With money, experience and a vision.
This is exactly one of the reasons for Somaliland’s success, says Ahmed Dalal Farah, management consultant and economist at Hargeisa University. He too had to flee because of the war and has come back to help build his country. The money and the experience of the returnees are extremely important for the economy, he says. But the bottom line is: “People believe in this country. That’s why they’re coming back, that’s why they’re investing here. ”
Like the German Mariam Adam Noor. At some point the young physiotherapist from Münster moved to her parents’ home country, and has been offering fitness courses for women here for a year. There has never been anything like it in Somaliland, she says. The very idea that women do sport is revolutionary.
HARGEISA, SOMALILAND – AUGUST 04: Street in the city center, Hargeisa, Somaliland on August 4, 2019 in Hargeisa, Somaliland. (Photo by Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)
In cafés, at concerts and in shops – everywhere you come across young returnees, recognizable by their expensive laptops, iPhones and smartwatches. She enjoys the slowed-down life, the feeling of being at home, says Mariam Adam Noor. But sometimes she feels strange here. Your two friends from London and Canada nod.
Somalia and Somaliland had gained independence almost simultaneously in 1960. Somalia from Italy, Somaliland from Great Britain. Their plan to form a union after independence proved to be a fatal mistake. War broke out, and in 1991 Somaliland officially declared the union a failure, withdrew and was thus independent again as it understood itself. But the republic is not recognized internationally.
This is why Somaliland is largely cut off from international support. What sounds like a curse, however, seems to be proving to be a blessing. The journalists Marc Engelhardt and Bettina Rühl write in their book about Somalia that the international aid not only failed to end the conflict in the country, it actually fueled the violence. Relief supplies have become one of the most important resources to fight for.
In Somaliland, on the other hand, the state was left to its own devices from the start and had to set up a tax system to finance itself. Taxpaying citizens can appear more self-confident towards the state, which strengthens democracy and reduces corruption. And unlike in some developing countries, where almost all state tasks – education, health, social affairs – are taken over by aid organizations, Somaliland had to set up the corresponding structures itself.
The Edna Adan Hospital in Hargeisa is the only one in the region that can treat a head of water; the disease occurs here much more frequently than in Germany. Photo: Benjamin Moscovici
That is also the reason why the ex-Foreign Minister Edna Adan Ismail did not retire to a beautiful villa somewhere on the Mediterranean after a long diplomatic life like many of her former colleagues. “When I saw the destruction after the war, I knew that my place was here.”
And so the most important part of her life began with her retirement, she says. In a few years she built a hospital on a rubbish dump that served as an execution site during the Siad Barre regime. Their goal: to reduce infant and maternal mortality. And when she realized that she didn’t have the doctors for the clinic, she quickly built a small university next door where you can study medicine.
The Edna Adan Hospital was built largely without the support of international aid organizations. Photo: Benjamin Moscovici
The clinic building stands out from the dusty brown rest of the city in a soft cream color. Three floors, two hospital wings. And everything was built largely without the support of international aid organizations. A large part of the funds comes from private donors, most of them refugees in the diaspora.
She herself put all of her assets into the project. She sold the Mercedes and replaced it with a Toyota, which she also sold shortly afterwards and replaced with an Indian Tata. She has also given up her house. Now she lives in a small apartment on the first floor of the clinic: kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom. Everything she doesn’t need to live flows into the hospital.
Everything that Edna Adan Ismail does not need to live flows into the hospital. Photo: Benjamin Moscovici
With success: since the opening in 2002, more than 27,000 deliveries have been carried out there. Hundreds of women have completed training as midwives and the first graduates are already working as doctors in hospitals.
Others slow down as they get older, make them calmer – with her it is the opposite. “I have to hurry, I don’t have that much time,” she says.
At 83, she still has big plans. She wants to train a thousand midwives before she leaves. And she is currently in the process of setting up an agricultural school. She says she gave so many girls a future. Now she also wants to show young men how they can live off the work of their hands.
By Benjamin Moscovici reports from Somaliland