I have been writing travel blogs about the towns I visit in Somalia since 2014. I was not, however, able to write about my previous visits to Garowe. 2014 was the first time I visited Garowe, but it was a short trip and spent only two nights there. While heading to Burco, I stopped over in Garowe for about an hour in September 2016. In August 2019, I stayed several nights, all in transition to three other districts – Badhan, Buuhoodle, and Gaalkacyo. In February 2021, I traveled to Garowe for a study I was working on with Somali Public Agenda and stayed for about a week. I did not manage to write a blog post on all these occasions. The time to write one for Garowe has finally come.
I landed at Garowe’s Gen. Mohamed Abshir airport on a sunny day on 18 October 2022 for a four-day assignment. This time I was accompanied by a former FGS official from Puntland who has good connections there. We entered the town via the airport’s VIP lounge.
Our team stayed at Martisoor Hotel, probably the best hotel in Garowe at the moment, although another big hotel is under construction nearby. The facilities at the hotel are great. The hotel food was tasty but expensive; food prices in Garowe in general were relatively pricey compared to other towns in Somalia I visited.
Since the last time (February 2021) I was in Garowe, there have been a lot of investments and the city is attracting a significant amount of Somali capital. New hotels are on the rise. Coincidently, two Somali Public Agenda (SPA) colleagues arrived at Garowe from Gaalkacyo the same day I landed. They were staying at a newly constructed hotel called Dream Point. In the evening, I would walk from Martisoor Hotel to Dream Point to catch up and have dinner with my colleagues and friends.
In the evening, I often had dinner with friends in Garowe. The city has youthful intellectuals who work in the public, nonprofit, and business sectors. However, several friends were in Garacad during my visit as they were attending the opening ceremony of the locally financed Garacad Port. One night, a friend – Farah Osman, who I first met in Bosaso in 2016 – took us to a restaurant called Higlo. Six of us had dinner together. One item on the menu was called Baxnaano. I told them that I am familiar with the Baxnaano social safety net project that the FGS Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and other organizations are currently implementing in Somalia. The friend who took us to the restaurant jokingly said to me ‘you will eat the Baxnaano project tonight’. I excitedly ordered this to test out the theory. I must say, it was a delicious and healthy mix of organic food. The restaurant must be creative in its naming of contemporary dishes.
As the capital city of Puntland, intellectuals in Garowe are often well-informed about Somalia’s politics and have strong views on certain issues. We – Somali Public Agenda & Somali Dialogue Platform – held a policy dialogue on reviving the negotiations of contentious political issues in Somalia in Garowe. When I presented the paper to policymakers and civil society actors at the PDRC hall, I was asked questions and clarifications on issues such as whether we should talk about the status of Mogadishu or the status of the capital city; why we used ‘dowlad-goboleed’ to refer the Federal Member States in the Somali version of the policy paper instead of ‘Dowladaha Xubnaha ka ah Dowladda Federaalka’; and whether the paper proposes a mixed federal election model in 2026 where elements of direct elections and elements of 4.5 are combined. These and other questions demonstrate how many people in Garowe are informed and have views on key governance questions in Somalia.
A friend invited us to a Friday lunch at the 22nd Farm (Beerta 22-aad) on the outskirts of Garowe. The farm is 22 kilometers away from the town. Camel milk, tea, rice, and goat meat were served at a reserved seat. Many other groups had lunch events on the farm. It was my second time going for lunch to the Beerta 22-aad (I went there first in February 2021). The farm is a sort of ‘proof of concept’ for people in Garowe to show that fruits and vegetables can be produced in Puntland’s stony soils. A diverse group of people were at the dinner, and we had an engaging and interesting discussion on democratization and elections.
Starting with the national elections and what a friend at the gathering called ‘the mathematics of 4.5’, we extensively discussed why some groups/clans advocate for the direct district-based national elections and why others support the 4.5 power sharing. The discussion turned to local elections in Puntland. It was a rare conversation with rich and insightful off-the-record analysis and frank discussion.
Our stay in Garowe coincided with the conclusion of a two-day Nugaal Book Fair and Youth Innovation Forum. The SPA and Somali Dialogue Platform team were invited to attend an evening closing ceremony of the book fair attended by Puntland officials, the book fair guests, and other intellectuals. The event was held at the PDRC compound and was attended by youth majority participants. We were late, and all seats were occupied. We joined a dozen of youths who were listening at the back while standing. We arrived when the stage was set for Mohamed Haldoor.
Mohamed is a young man with special needs but is morally strong and inspirational. He narrated his story, the struggles he went through, and how he ended up becoming a journalist to an attentive and empathetic audience. Mohamed used to listen to the news and then record it on a Panasonic radio tape player to practice reporting and newscasting. He used to play his recorded news for his visitors to listen to. After doing this for a while, he was interviewed by Universal TV and many people got to know him. He took journalism courses and finally ended up working for a TV station and then Radio Hargeisa, his dream radio.
With limited resources and support, Mohamed went through many hardships to realize his dream of becoming a journalist. He told participants that he believed in himself and knew that he would one day become a journalist, just as he knew that he will one day die. Mohamed had written a book and wanted to look for treatment abroad with the income he generates from the sales. Although the hard copy of the book was not available at the event for participants to buy and read, some attendants pledged money to him. His story was very moving and inspiring, and I was very happy to have had the opportunity to listen to him and be present there. At the end of the event, I had the chance to also buy two books at the venue.
During my short stay in Garowe, I felt the public and youth enthusiasm for one person one vote local elections in Puntland. Everyone in Garowe talks about it with excitement and hope that they will finally elect their local leaders. Although there are political and technical challenges surrounding district demarcations, registrations, and election timelines, Garowe air is full of talk about universal suffrage. I wish them good luck and a prosperous future.