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Friday, April 04, 2008

Day 2 in Somaliland

This morning, Ahmad Ali, Head of CCBRS, Somaliland's largest NGO, whom I met yesterday on the Djibouti-Hargeisa flight (and also drove me to Oriental Hotel), drove me to his office and described to me the operations of CCBRS, which includes helping the handicapped to set up and run their own small business and provision of artificial limbs and medical operations for the handicapped and victims of landmines. Then he treated me to a wonderful meal of roast lamb and rice, Somali style, which was as good as the one I had at Oriental Hotel last night.
I also tried the internet this morning. About US$1/hour, and very fast broadband. Amazing that you can find broadband in Somaliland but not in Ethiopia and Eritrea. I have been told that the Somaliland interferes little in the economy, and there is so much competition, say, in the telecoms sector, that phone calls and broadband access are among the lowest in the world. I have also been told that Africa Online, one of the country's telecom operators, has its server and maintenance base in Singapore, as a result of which it offers highly competitive rates for international phone calls.
Somaliland's currency is the Somaliland Schillings. The currency suffered a serious devaluation a few years ago and the exchange rate today is Sd Sch 5700 = US$1. The largest banknote is only Sd Sch 500, which is worth slightly less than 10 US cents. All visitors arriving at the airport are forced by the government to change US$50 to Sd Sch at the rate of Sd Sch 3200 = US$1, effectively giving the government a discount of 45%! Even then, the Sd Sch 160,000 I get comes in three thick brick bundles of 100 or more banknotes each!
Mohamed, Ahmad's finance officer, picked me up in the afternoon to bring me to the office of Geeska Afrika (Horn of Africa in Somali) where I was interviewed about my journey around the world and my current trip to Somaliland. I was told that it should be published the next day.
Mohamed showed me various sights around Hargeisa and introduced to his friends. Coincidentally, both of Mohamed and his friend, Abdi, were graduates of the International Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur. They are well versed with the complexities of Malaysian politics and have followed the recent elections there.
Genealogy is very important to Somali people. Somali clans always make sure their people memorise who their ancestors are, often up to over 20 generations, all the way to the founder of the clan who is usually an Arab who came over to Somalia. The Isaaq of Somaliland, foe instance, claim decent to Isaaq, an Arab from Arabian Peninsula, and through him, all the way to the Quraysh clan of the Prophet. I asked a few Somalis whether they could recount all that and it was always in the affirmative. Their fathers always force them to memorise that from the age of seven.
It was said that when the US government announced that they would give green cards to minority clans in Somalia but many from the main clans of Hawiye, Daarood, Isaaq and Reewin also claim descent from minority clans. So the US government engaged clan elders from the minority clans and sub-clans to question the applicants to see if they know their genealogy, which has proven to the best way of verifying their origins. Unfortunately, this is also the way clan militias differentiate between people they come across in the vicious clan wars in the south.

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