As we ponder over the unprecedented situation we are facing now and stress over the potential fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought of sharing my travel experience to Somaliland last year and how a country which is still unrecognized as an independent country, offers a plethora of business and investment opportunities.
To be honest, I didn’t know such a country even existed until I got a chance to travel there for one of my projects! I guess many of us who are not as well-read as the rest would have probably heard of Somalia and not that Somaliland is an entirely different and separate country. What I read and experienced in the next few weeks fascinated me. For those who don’t know, Somaliland is a self-declared state on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, which declared independence after the overthrow of Somali military dictator Siad Barre in 1991. Though not internationally recognized, Somaliland has a working political system, government institutions, police force and own currency. The country has an estimated population of 4 million and per capita GDP of around USD 675, one of the lowest in the African continent.
The first thing that you notice once you land at the Hargeisa Egal International Airport is the absence of baggage conveyor belts (yeah, you read it right!). For an airport with flights from international destinations such as Cairo to Dubai to Addis Ababa, this was shocking to me! It felt like I was standing in a queue in a bus stand in India, waiting for my luggage to arrive, amidst a multitude of people some of whom equally bemused by this whole experience. The immigration process before this was slightly more organized and got over quickly, thanks to the efficient officer at the counter. My next stop was Ambassador Hotel Hargeisa which would be my abode for the next week. The hotel is arguably the best in the country and is often the preferred choice of stay for foreign diplomats and members of international organizations such as the UN. After having spent a week there, I will strongly recommend the hotel to anyone planning a trip to Hargeisa.
Apart from the road from the Egal Airport to Ambassador Hotel and the roads around the hotel, the rest of the road infrastructure in Hargeisa and neighboring towns is pretty dismal, to put it mildly. You will be greeted by decades-old mini-vans and second-hand cars (on the verge of breaking down) once you enter the main city. Add to that, broken roads and lack of any roads in some parts of the capital city makes the entire experience adventurous but very bumpy! Most of the cars you see on the road are second-hand and probably 10-15 years old but driven at break-neck speed! You see a lot of Vitz (Toyota) on the road zooming past you from all directions, similar to the ubiquitous Alto on our Indian roads. Some might say that this is the real Africa, with dilapidated or poorly maintained buildings, poor people selling wares and stuff on the road, and barren land on the outskirts of the city.
Having stayed in Hargeisa for a week and after trying out various local dishes at the Ambassador Hotel and smaller restaurants in the city, it is difficult not to talk about the Somaliland cuisine. The country’s rich cuisine is heavily influenced by countries such as Italy, Turkey, Arab, Ethiopia and of course India. Right from sabaayad (roti-like) to sambusa (our very own samosa) to canjeero/laxoox (fermented pan bread), you get to choose from a multitude of options in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. One thing that I was not too adventurous to try is the camel milk, a very popular item in Somaliland. It might not be appetizing to you, but this is their delicacy! One thing I liked and tried a lot is the Somali tea, one of the best I had in a long time.
The country has gone through a lot of turmoil and since it is not recognized by international organizations, it is not eligible for loans from the World Bank and the IMF. This exclusion from international markets has compounded the socio-economic pressures that the country is facing.
Despite a not-so-large population base, the country offers great opportunities for investments, exports and imports, also because of its relatively younger demographic structure. Owing to the country’s troubled history and lack of sufficient opportunities to deal with the outside world, I found the people in Somaliland warm and extremely hardworking. However, business and investment will be key to create jobs, sustainable growth and prosperity in Somaliland. In Somaliland, where 63% of men and 80% of women between 25 and 34 years of age are unemployed, this need is particularly important. I hope the country gets its international recognition soon and then make up for lost ground on the back of stronger financial support, an industrious working class and large untapped markets.
On a personal front, if someone asks me if I would want to go back to Somaliland, I’ll say YES! I wish my earlier stay was long enough to see more of their rich culture and try out more of the delectable Somali cuisine (I will still skip the camel meat and milk!). If I get an opportunity to go back to the country in the future, I hope to see a better place with people living in peace and prosperity. After having been through so much strife over the past many decades, they definitely deserve it!
Would you like to learn more about the potential for your company’s products and services in Somaliland? Get in touch with us.
Author: Prasanth R Krishnan
Prasanth works as an Associate Director with Avalon Global Research and is primarily responsible for project delivery, client management and business development. He has over 14 years of experience across research, consulting and financial services industries. At Avalon, his focus industries are Automotive and Industrials along with ICT. Outside of work, he is an avid Automotive enthusiast and likes to keep track of all the latest developments in the Automotive world.