The memories of Somaliland’s troubled past are preserved in the Hargeisa War Memorial, a site crafted to honor those who lost their lives in what was known as “The Bloody War.”
What Is The Hargeisa War Memorial?
In the early hours of the morning, as the sun rises to greet the residents of Hargeisa—the capital and largest city of Somaliland—its golden rays illuminate the Hargeisa War Memorial. It is a monument of tears and blood, and yet, a symbol of the hope and freedom of a people.
The Hargeisa War Memorial rests on a dais covered with murals. From afar, you could brush it off as mere art, but a closer look will reveal that it tells the gruesome tale of the Somaliland War of Independence that took place in the 1980s. The mural bears scenes from the war—men fighting and carrying weapons, armored tanks and fighter jets flying overhead and burning houses. Summary executions of civilians; and decapitated heads and limbs are also featured on it.
A downed MiG-17 fighter jet sits atop. It was one of the Somalia Air Force aircraft that repeatedly ravaged the city with bombs. It took off from Hargeisa airport and made several air raids over the city, and in a twist of fate, crashed, and was later seized by the rebel army.
The mural is also a symbol of freedom and hope. On one of the walls of the dais, it features a woman carrying a baby on her back. as she waves the flag of the Republic of Somaliland. One part of the mural is made to look as if it is peeling away to reveal lush green fields and blue skies.
A Brief History Of Somaliland
Somaliland is an autonomous region in northern Somalia, located in the easternmost part of Africa—the Horn of Africa. During the colonial era, Somaliland in the northern region was under the British Protectorate, and was the first Somali state to be granted independence on 26 June 1960. The Italians ruled over the southern region, but due to Somalia Nationalist public opinion, the north and south agreed to a unification and became the Somali Republic.
The two states were not in harmony from the early days, with growing discontent as the years passed. Instead of the federal republic that the northerners, especially the majority Isaaq and Harti, hoped for, the southerners took all the important positions of the new state. These included the Office of the President, Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, Minister of Interior and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The people of Somaliland were dissatisfied with the constitution and unification terms, and demanded on several occasions for reforms, but were dismissed by successive civilian governments.
The impoverishment of Somaliland continued for years without any consideration for the region. The political and psychological mind games perpetuated by President Siad Barre were such that they led to unprecedented violence targeted towards the Isaaq clan, which led to the looting of their properties, destabilization of cities and the loss of lives.
Under the brutal dictatorship of Somali President Jaalle Mohamed Siad Barre, Somaliland began a campaign to break away from Somalia in the late 1980s. They wanted to put an end to the toxic relationship and the only solution was for the two sides to separate. As usual, in every quest for freedom, the oppressors do not take rejection so well. In order to take down a stronghold of the rebel Somalia National Movement, the Somalia Air Force began a large-scale air strike on Hargeisa. The primary targets of the massacre were the Isaaq clan, who lived predominantly in the north.
The aerial bombardment led to the destruction of 70 percent of the city. Coupled with other systemic state-sponsored summary executions and ground attacks, the number of civilian deaths was estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000. It was called the Issaq genocide or Hargeisa Holocaust.
As a result Up to 500,000 Somalis abandoned their homes and crossed the border to Harttasheikh in Ethiopia as refugees. It is described as one of the fastest and largest forced movements of people ever recorded in Africa.
Somaliland experienced hardship and despair at the hands of President Siad Barre before it declared itself an independent state in May 1991. Despite having almost all the attributes of a state—its own currency, bureaucracy, trained army and police force—Somaliland has not been officially recognized by any foreign government.
The population is about 3.5 million; the major languages are Somali, Arabic, and English; and the currency is the Somaliland shilling. It has maintained relative stability over the years but continues to face many troubles like droughts and famine due to climate change. Many of the people who had to flee during the war, have become refugees in other countries and found their way back home.
As of April 2022, the Hargeisa War Memorial was being reconstructed to give it a more modern look.
The US State Department advises against all travel to Somaliland. There is still the risk of violent crimes such as kidnapping, civil unrest and murder, even though Somaliland is more stable than Somalia. Travel agencies and several government agencies also advise that Somaliland is not safe for travel. However, you can learn more about Hargeisa and see pictures of the city here.
Before you leave this page, do you prefer the modern look or the original? Let’s know in the comments.
Atlas Obscura – Hargeisa War Memorial
The Economist: Why Somaliland is not a recognised state
Wikipedia: Isaaq Genocide
Wiki Voyage: Somaliland
World Atlas: What Is Somaliland, And Who Controls It?