«Only with the greatest of simplifications, for the sake of convenience, can we say Africa. In reality, except as a geographical term, Africa doesn’t exist», writes Ryszard Kapuncinsky in his introduction to The Shadow of the Sun. “What can I say about a country that I cannot find on the map of a continent that doesn’t exist?”, asks herself Hayat in the documentary.
It is true that Somaliland had ceased to exist for a while such as we understand the existence of a state. In 1991 there was no government, no army or police, no hospital or a single school, no people and no animals. There were only scattered stones on a burnt out terrain.
After the colonial period, Somalis had a dream; to unify all their clans under the same territory, the Greater Somalia that Mussolini had envisioned was to integrate British Somaliland, French Djibouti, Ogaden in Ethiopia and north eastern Kenya with Somalia that had been colonized by Italy. “That dream became a nightmare”, says Cawill, a war veteran who later became minister of finance.
Tribal disputes became a reality only too soon and the Cold War established itself in a territory what was already sweltering. With the support of the Soviet Union, General Siad Barre tried to occupy Ethiopia at the time which was at war with Eritrea. However tables turned and the Russian started backing Ethiopia while the US gave its support to Somalia.
The Horn of Africa was a minefield when Somaliland embarked on the road towards independence in 1988. The Somali dictator, who at that time had the most powerful army in Africa, did not show any mercy. The main towns of Somaliland were exhaustively bombed. Not one building remained standing and the entire population fled to Ethiopia.
The people only returned after the fall of Barre’s regime three years later. Abdulaker, the owner of Mansoor hotel, describes Hargeisa as an apocalyptic town. In the capital of Somaliland the rivers had dried up, there was not a single tree and not even a shadow of the sun. When he decided to construct his hotel he told his friends abroad: “When you eat fruits, please keep the seeds and bring them to Hargeisa”.
Cawill, Abdukaler, Boobe and Adam are the fathers of the new Somaliland. This afternoon they have narrated to us their battles and how they erected the state from its ruins, how they struggled to attain peace and to reconcile different clans, how they organized a police force of volunteers, how they improvised a hospital and a school that had chairs made from cans. If there was a Mount Rushmore in Somaliland their faces would be sculpted on it.
Since 1991 Somaliland has been an independent country, nevertheless it still is nowhere to be found on the world map. The international community, reluctant to move colonial borders, has refused to recognize the sovereignty of this country. But Somaliland exists; it is a reality just like its people, hills, stones, camels and goats. It is as real as life itself, as a dream waking up from death.