BY INSI

TRAVEL ADVISORY: Somalia as at 20/05/13

Somalia is one of the most politically and economically unstable countries in the world.

It has not had a fully functioning government since 1991, when the Siad Barre regime collapsed and the north-west part of Somalia declared itself the Independent Republic of Somaliland.

Over the last 20 years various political groups have tried, and failed, to to exert control over the majority of the country. A new federal government is now in place, bringing an end to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) which was established in 2004. There have been ongoing conflicts between the government and various militant and political groups, most notably Islamic militants al-Shabaab.

Although al-Shabaab were pushed out of Mogadishu in 2011, civil unrest and terrorism is common and insecurity is set to increase in the mid term, according to predictions.

While all foreigners are potential targets for crime, violence and kidnapping, journalists and aid workers are considered to be at most risk.

INSI is issuing the following travel advisory for journalists working in Somalia.

General advice for journalists

• Somalia is not for the faint-hearted and due consideration should be given to the difficult circumstances under which you will work. Before working in Somalia, it is advisable that you are familiar with working in Africa. You should ensure that all your vaccinations are up to date and that you are familiar with malaria and bite prevention.

• Journalists should avoid taking photographs of government or military facilities, airports, bridges, etc. It is illegal and you risk being arrested and having your film and equipment confiscated.

• You should also exercise caution when photographing or filming people and livestock as many among the pastoralist community believe their souls will be taken by the camera. There should be no problem bringing filming equipment into the country, however you may need a permit for it if you travel through other countries to get there.

Threats in Somalia

• Targeted killings and gunfights are common in Mogadishu, and continue to be a security risk for journalists. The UN and African Union troops have expanded a zone of stability around Mogadishu and al-Shabaab has largely retreated from the city and several strategic towns in the south. This means that mortar and sniper attacks by the militant Islamist group are less common in the capital, however IED (Improvised Explosive Device) attacks are still staged. Suicide bombers remain a high risk to those working in Mogadishu.

• Puntland and the autonomous region of Somaliland are more stable and enjoy periods of relative peace and security.

• Kidnapping, roadblocks and banditry can occur in any region of Greater Somalia and even local experience and protection will not necessarily mitigate these risks.

• Kidnappings have frequently occurred against individuals travelling with protection, sometimes with the complicity of locally-hired guards. Ensure you carry out some due diligence on your guards prior to travelling with them.

Personal security

• Crime exists throughout the country and any journalist working there must ensure that their belongings and valuables are secured at all times.

• Serious, brutal and fatal crimes are common in Somalia, especially in Mogadishu and in southern Somalia.

• The drug khat is chewed in Somalia, and it is advisable to avoid very heavy users in case they experience mood alterations that may be directed at you. Chewing is normally a social event and takes place in the afternoon and evenings with men gathering to chew and talk, often late into the evening. Chewing also causes significantly increased libido and female journalists should be cautious in the evenings.

Transport around the country

• There are no streetlights and roads in most areas are generally in poor condition. There are not many working, or respected, traffic lights or stop signs. INSI does not recommend driving after dark, as it can be extremely hazardous due to the condition of the roads, the poor state of repair of vehicles and the amount of livestock roaming freely.

• INSI advises that you hire a driver rather than rent a car yourself as they have more experience of driving in these conditions. It is best to use a known and trusted driver rather than a taxi. If you do not have a driver supplied by your agency, ask your hotel to recommend one to you. Remember that clan affiliation matters, so depending on your destination, you may want to use more than one driver (you should research the clan structure in Somalia prior to travel as this may alter your travel plans).

• In Mogadishu it is possible to arrange an escort from local militia. This usually offers a good degree of protection.

Planning and preparation

• Any assignment in Somalia should be thoroughly planned. Your safety and security are relative to your experience and training, and visitors to the country must be prepared for any eventuality.

• A robust assignment outline and risk assessment must be undertaken prior to travel.

• Hostile environment and medical training should also be attended.

• Ask yourself, how will you get there, who will meet you, where will you stay, how will you get around, what will you do if you get sick or have an accident? There is no state of the art medical care and you are very much on your own to deal with any emergency.

• INSI advises that you research the latest security situation at the time of your travel and factor this into your planning. You may wish to consider registering with your embassy, so if the situation deteriorates you can be located, particularly if you are travelling on your own. Bear in mind that there are not many functioning embassies in Somalia.

If you are unsure of any of this, then please consult INSI’s 'Planning and preparation for safe travel overseas' advisory.

Passport and visa information

• Visitors to Puntland can get a visa upon arrival at Bender Qassim International Airport, also known as Bosaso Airport.

• No visa is required for southern Somalia since there is no established governing authority capable of issuing a universally recognised visa.

• Those visiting Somaliland are now able to obtain a visa upon arrival. Currently the point of entry for air travel is Berbera Airport since the airport at Hargeisa is under repair. Passengers should carry USD cash and passport photographs for a visa.

• Ensure you have an adequate contingency plan in place and that a trusted person, such as your editor or a friend (if a freelancer), has your contact details. It is advisable to carry around a photocopy of your passport whilst travelling in Somalia, in case you are stopped by the police or a military patrol. Leave your passport somewhere secure. You may want to check this advice with your fixer as the rules can change with little notice.

Airport arrival and security

Mogadishu

• Mogadishu International Airport is also known as Aden Adde International Airport.

• The African Union peacekeeping mission, supported by government-aligned militia, normally maintains a heavy presence in and around the airport.

• It is not generally possible to conduct a day trip to Mogadishu using scheduled flights. Day trips can be arranged using a charter flight from Nairobi. Pheonix Aviation is the most reliable service.

• If travelling to the city, you can stay in accommodation at the airport in the “Green Zone” which also houses the British embassy, although accommodation is limited and can be pricey so book early. It is also possible to stay at one of many secure guesthouses around the city. Seek advice before booking.

Travelling in Somaliland

• All non-Somalis are required by law to engage an armed escort when travelling around Somaliland. Escorts are provided by the Special Protection Unit (SPU) of the Somaliland Police. You must book these in advance.

• These are estimated to cost US $25 per day, per man for an escort. Normally two men will be required in the areas of Hargeisa, Berbera, Borama and Burao. If travelling to Erigavo or Laascanood then a more robust escort will be required.

• Hargesia: Somaliland taxis are fairly reliable, and should cost around US $10 to and from the airport to the centre. Regular bus services between Berbera and Hargeisa are provided by airlines however vehicles are often in poor state of repair and drivers are not necessarily qualified. It is safest to arrange a vehicle and driver in advance.

• Berbera: Berbera is a small port city. There is only one functioning hotel, the Mansoor, 2km along the beach to the east of the Port.

Other information which may assist you in your travels

Electricity

• The electricity supply is 220-240 volts. If your appliances are for 110 volts bring dual voltage appliances or a voltage converter. Round two-pin Asian/Middle Eastern-style plugs are common. In southern Somalia, you might encounter European round two-pin plugs. In the north, especially in Somaliland, you will need British square three-pin plugs.

• Bring a selection of electrical adaptor plugs if in doubt. Assume that electricity will be in short supply, so have a back up for this eventuality and bring a surge protector.

Money

• Bring large and small denominations of USD. US $100 bills will get you a better rate in local currency, while smaller denominations are useful for purchases and payments.

• In Somalia and Puntland the local currency is the Somali shilling. In Somaliland it is the Somaliland shilling, although the Somali shilling will be accepted in some parts of this territory.

• Travellers cheques and credit cards are of no use and there are no ATM machines.

Telecommunications, mobile and Internet coverage

• In the north the telephone system operates reasonably well, however this is not the case in Puntland or the south of Somalia.

• Mobile phone usage is much more prevalent throughout the country in comparison to land line usage. The three largest firms are Hormuud Telecom, NationLink and Telecom Somalia, which provide coverage in areas of high population density.

• Mobile phones and SIM cards can be obtained locally. However it is strongly recommended that travellers obtain SIM cards before arriving in Mogadishu. This can usually be done in Nairobi or Djibouti.

• SIM Cards for Telesom and Somtel networks can be readily purchased on arrival in Berbera airport. There is no interconnectivity between networks in Somaliland. It is advisable to carry either a dual SIM capable handset or two handsets in order to communicate between networks. Make sure you bring an unlocked phone with you.

Medical facilities

• There are no emergency services in Somalia so you may have difficulty getting to a medical centre in an emergency.

• Ensure that you have adequate medical insurance with repatriation to cover all emergencies.

• It is advisable to enroll with the AMREF Flying Doctors (a Kenya based medical evacuation company) service prior to travelling to Somalia. UK travel insurance will not cover Somalia since their regular aeromedical responders will not travel to the country. AMREF subscriptions can be paid online.

• There are basic hospital facilities in Hargeisa, such as the Hargeisa Canadian Medical Center (HCMC) or the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital. However medical facilities are limited or non-existent some areas, so for serious cases consider to leaving the country.

• If you become seriously ill in the north of Somalia, try to get to the French Military Hospital in Djibouti. If you are in the south, try to get to the UN hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.


Note: The views here are those of the author and are personal reflections and safety advice. They are meant to assist anyone in the media to be prepared to work in Somalia and are not meant to be negative in nature. If they cause offence to anyone, sincerest apologies are offered in advance. INSI holds no responsibility for any ensuing problems, bodily harm or death in relation to this advice.

INSI has compiled this advisory with information from and thanks to Hybrid Solutions as well as other sources on the ground in Somalia. If you require more advice on travel to Somalia, then please contact them directly.

Photo: Somali fishermen carry their catch on their heads as they walk to the market in Mogadishu, Somalia, Friday May, 17, 2013, (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)