10 things you didn’t know about Somalia
BARKHAD Abdi, the Somali-American actor who won a BAFTA and Oscar nomination for his role in “Captain Phillips”, is on a mission to change the war-torn and famine afflicted image that Somalia has.
In a recent interview, shortly after returning from a visit to Somalia, he described the country as “in the process of being rebuilt”, that “there is more there than war, drought, and hunger.” He told AFP that he now dreams a film that shows a different side of Somalia. We thought we would help him out.
Here are 10 things you didn’t know about beautiful Somalia:
1. Somalia was the first country in Africa to have a peaceful handover of power after a Presidential election. Aden Abdulle Osman Daar, the first president of Somalia (1960 – 1967), was defeated by Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, his former Prime Minister in a democratic election. Daar graciously accepted the loss and peacefully handed power over.
2. Mogadishu, the ocean-front capital of Somalia, was founded and populated by Arab, Persian, and Indian sea merchants in the 10th century. Mogadishu quickly became heavily populated and was so well protected that it was the only town on the Swahili Coast that successfully avoided Portuguese occupation, even at the height of Portuguese influence in the 16th and 17th centuries. Today there is are no verified population figures for Mogadishu although Warsame Mohamed Hassan, a former deputy mayor, said the population in Mogadishu may be close to 3 million people.
3. Mogadishu is the only capital city in the world where arms are being sold openly in markets. Guns sold at markets, including the city’s famous Bakara market, have been identified as a variety of assault rifles. This particular market is known to sell to all comers and is routinely resupplied by Yemeni smuggling networks.
4. Pasta is the de facto national dish of Somalia. Known locally as baasto, the Italians introduced pasta to Somalia in 1889 when they colonised the country – but it has changed a great deal since the Italians brought it over.
Somalis often add spices to the pasta sauce, such as coriander, cinnamon and cumin. They also have their own original takes to pasta al forno (baasto forno) and marinara sauce – a particular favourite.
5. Somalis love their mobile money! It is reported that 34% of adults in Somalia use mobile money and Somalia’s online “Dahabshiil” is one of the largest money transfer companies in Africa, operating in 155 countries
6. At 3,025 km, Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa and some of those beaches are breath-taking! Lido Beach is Mogadishu’s most popular stretch of coast, with pure white sands that host beach scenes that you’d see in many other parts of the world. There’s another popular beach near Merca, an ancient port city, known as Sinbusi beach – a stunning place with good snorkelling.
7. Somalia was the first country in East Africa to establish diplomatic ties with China. Ties were established in 1960 when Somalia granted China diplomatic recognition and lobbied for the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to replace the Republic of China as the only lawful representative of China to the UN.
8. The stunning architecture of Shanghai Old City. Located in Mogadishu, the namesake of China’s huge city of Shanghai is an area of architectural beauty, popular as a location for wealthy tourists and largely controlled by warlords. This area is home to the Mogadishu cathedral and the Fakr ad-Din Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in the region.
9. Somalia has the cheapest cellular calling rates on the continent. Some companies charge less than a cent per minute! Currently, there are about 11 licensed local operators whose networks cover the whole nation, but the biggest name is Somali Telecom – the country’s first private telecommunication company that opened in 1994
10. Somalia is the first country on the African continent to have introduced the e-passport – intially deployed in 2007. In 2014, the federal government took this a step further by launching new e-passports, compliant with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards, to ensure that Somali citizens are carrying a fraud-resistant identity document.