Would You Fancy a Holiday in Somalia?
Despite its proud and rich history, Somalia has long become (internationally, at least) a byword for violence, humanitarian disaster, and despair. Needless to say, the beleaguered failed state hardly comes to mind as a viable tourist destination — indeed, one would think I was making a cruel joke by suggesting such a thing.
And yet there really is a strong push — by Somalis themselves — to create a vibrant and sustainable economy, one that will draw vacationers and business people from around the world. Although we haven’t heard much about the beleaguered nation as of late, the sense of progress is real and palpable.
After more than 20 years of violence, Somalia moved a step closer to stability last September after picking its first president elected on home soil in decades.
And now, hope is gradually returning to parts of the East African country.
Although security is still an issue, Mogadishu has been experiencing an economic renaissance in recent months, boosted by members of the diaspora returning home to rebuild the country, as well as the efforts of local businessmen who never left.
Osman, who stayed in Somalia throughout its conflict, hopes his new development will attract holidaymakers from abroad. He says that he’s already had American and British visitors staying in his hotels.
“More than 20 tourists they came,” he says. “Some of them they came with their family to show Somalia, especially Mogadishu,” adds Osman. “And really when they went back, they were so excited when they saw how Mogadishu looks like, how beautiful city we have, how beautiful beach we have and that is what we want to show them again and again.”
Osman’s ambitious new projects are part of a growing building activity that is reshaping many of the neighborhoods of bullet-ridden Mogadishu.
It’s remarkable how anyone can remain optimistic in light of this still-tenuous situation (after all, violence and poverty still remain endemic in much of the country). But there you have it — people all over the world continuing to persevere and hope despite all the odds against them. The people who have suffered the most seem the least cynical:
“If you go to Mogadishu the construction is very, very booming,” says Osman. “That is the sign of peace,” he adds. “Especially the people who came back from America and Europe, they start to open the new businesses.”
Mogadishu’s growing economy is manifested not just in real estate and the hotel sector. Telecommunications is also on the rise, while the aviation industry is spreading its wings too, with about 15 daily domestic and international flights.
“We have six different routes and basically next we’ll be eight,” says Osman Abdullahi, a young Somali entrepreneur who set up the ODAY express airline. “There is a lot of airlines that are planning to (come to) this country and hoping to (have) a hub over here.”
Abdullahi admits that leaving the United States in 2010 to return home and start his business was a “100% huge risk.”
He says that when moved back back to Somalia, it was too dangerous to even drive in Mogadishu. “That picture is already gone. It’s a different picture today,” he says.
This new picture can also be witnessed at Mogadishu’s seaport — Somalia’s key national asset — where creaking cranes lift goods from the commercial ships and boats lining the harbor. The wide array of imported construction materials, household goods and food are then loaded onto rows of waiting trucks.
The customs revenue collected from here has increased exponentially in recent times. And while the system is far from perfect, the income is crucial to the newly formed government in rebuilding the city, whose basic infrastructure has been shattered by war.
I know it’s too soon to say whether this will become a long-term and ultimately permanent trend, as there’s always the very real possibility of renewed violence. But if the long-suffering Somali people can see a cause for hope — and are working to that end — the least I can do is oblige them. I’m optimistic that such creative and hardworking citizens can indeed build a better nation upon the smoldering ashes. I wish them the best.