Hidden in Somaliland, a country that technically doesn't exist, is a hoard of ancient attractions which could form the basis of a much-needed tourism industry. But these timeless artefacts are in danger of disappearing as a result of this non-country's political seclusion. James Jeffrey reports from the capital, Hargeisa.
Ancient and sprite-like etchings of humans and cattle blanket the cave wall as the guide points to outlines of giraffes that once roamed verdant plains but which now, like the former grasslands, are long gone from the Horn of Africa.
The collection of caves at Las Geel, deep in the Somaliland scrubland, features one of the most impressive collections of ancient rock art on the African continent. But some of the 5,000-10,000 yearold renditions of primordial life are now unrecognisable smears due to lack of protection from the elements and animal activity.
"There isn't money to look after the site better, our tourism department is tiny," says Abdisalam Mohamed who works for the department operating out of a few ramshackle offices in the centre of Somaliland's capital, Hargeisa.
Still unrecognised by the international community since declaring independence more than 25 years ago, arter a civil war when it was part of Somalia, Somaliland's government has a tiny budget, relying on diaspora remittances to bolster the economy.
Supporting tourism infrastructure simply isn't a priority in such circumstances. Hence many of Somaliland's historical highlights risk ruin due to lack of funds, or because of simply remaining lost, never having been found.
Somali archaeologist Sada Mire has recorded ancient rock art at about 100 places in Somaliland, while more than 1,000 such sites, she estimates, await discovery.
Time running out
About 100km east of Las Geel on the Somaliland coast is the ancient maritime trade post of Berbera, its sun-baked streets and waterline steeped in history. The town's old quarter is a wealth of crumbling pre-20th century Ottoman architectural gems and old neighbourhoods where Arab, Indian and jewish trading communities once thrived, which would make it, like Las Geel, a shoo-in candidate as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were it not for Somaliland's political limbo.
A UNESCO team visited Somaliland, but as the country is not recognised by the UN, and hence, still viewed as part of Somalia, which hasn't ratified the 1972 World Heritage Convention, world heritage status for its sites remains elusive. But at the...