BERBERA, SOMALILAND — To depart Mogadishu’s heavily-armed international airport — Somalia’s “green zone” — is an expensive prospect. Decades of lawlessness and instability in Mogadishu make insurance almost impossible. Few foreigners will pass outside the airport’s heavily fortified walls without armored cars and multiple personal security contractors. Most diplomats in Somalia (including America’s and Europe’s) are either sequestered inside the airport or remain in Kenya.
But Berbera is a different story. The main port in the northern region of Somaliland is thriving. New hotels are opening. Locals and foreigners intermingle on the beach, and both men and women gather on doorsteps and in teahouses in the evening to watch football, gossip, or shop. In Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa, moneychangers leave bundles of cash unattended, as crime is so low. While al-Shabaab repeatedly strikes deep into Mogadishu and Kismayo, there has not been a terrorist attack in Hargeisa in more than a decade. While President Bihi’s government in Somaliland controls approximately 50,000 square miles of territory, President Farmajo in Mogadishu has secured only around 50,000 square feet, equivalent to the grounds of Villa Somalia, Somalia’s heavily fortified White House.
According to the State Department’s travel warning, there is no difference between the two regions. “Do not travel to Somalia due to crime, terrorism, kidnapping and piracy,” it warns. It declares violent crime pernicious across regions, and continues to warn about piracy, even though Puntland’s pirates have not captured a single ship in more than two years, and Somaliland’s coast guard has never permitted piracy off its 450-mile coast.
Inaccurate and imprecise State Department warnings are not limited to Somalia. The State Department’s Iraq warning neither acknowledges Iraqi Kurdistan’s decades-long security nor the dramatic drop in Baghdad violence. The United States recently got a taste of its own medicine when Uruguay issued a travel warning citing “growing indiscriminate violence, mostly for hate crimes, including racism and discrimination” as a reason to avoid travel to the United States, even as most towns and cities — let alone rural America — remain safer than ever.