What makes Somalia a unique country to travel to?
Since the collapse of the central government in 1991, Somalia has been subject to widespread violence and instability. A Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was established in 2004 to guide the country to a more representative government. The TFG was succeeded by a new federal government in September 2012. In January 2013 the United States officially recognized the Somali government for the first time since 1991. However, the U.S. government does not maintain a diplomatic presence in Somalia at this time.
Somali security forces, with the assistance of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have liberated the capital city of Mogadishu and other key cities in southern and central Somalia from the control of al-Shabaab, a radical Islamist movement affiliated with al-Qa’ida, but the central government’s reach and ability to provide services remains limited. Al-Shabaab still maintains control of towns and villages in Somalia’s countryside and retains the capability to conduct occasional terrorist attacks in Mogadishu.
Regional administrations have evolved in the rest of the country with the most notable being the semi-autonomous state of Puntland in the northeast and Somaliland, which has declared independence, but is unrecognized by any other country, in the northwest. While al-Shabaab has lost ground in southern and central Somalia, it remains capable of terrorist acts and asymmetric warfare. Criminal groups conduct kidnapping for ransom and piracy, particularly in the regions of Galmuduug and Puntland, although the number of incidents have been on the decline with the introduction of land and sea-based initiatives to counter piracy. Inter- and intra-clan violence also frequently occurs throughout the country. Somalia's infrastructure and economy were seriously damaged by the civil war and its aftermath, but the private sector is trying to reemerge and has been boosted by an influx of diaspora returning to Somalia since the end of the transitional period of governance. Tourist facilities are non-existent.
Pervasive and violent crime is an extension of the general state of insecurity in Somalia. Serious, brutal, and often fatal crimes are very common. Kidnapping and robbery are a particular problem in Mogadishu, other areas of the south, and in Galmuduug and Puntland.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Somalia, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places, driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Somalia, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not wherever you go.
Persons violating Somalia’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Somalia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
There is no organized system of criminal justice in Somalia, nor is there any recognized or established authority to administer a uniform application of due process. Enforcement of criminal laws is, therefore, haphazard to nonexistent. Locally established courts operate throughout Somalia under a combination of Somali customary and Islamic Shari'a law, some of which may be hostile towards foreigners.
Arrest notifications in host country: Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Somalia, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. However, this is unlikely to happen as there is no U.S. diplomatic representation in Somalia.
Standard Somali with its diverse scripts based on clan affiliation, is now written in Latin script. Literacy has increased dramatically. English, Italian and Arabic are spoken by educated Somali. The Somali language stems from the Cushitic language family.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities in Somalia are extremely limited. Travelers should carry personal supplies of medications with them, as many of the health clinics in Somalia lack a doctor or a nurse and carry substandard supplies.
Malaria is endemic in Somalia; chemoprophylaxis is recommended for all travelers without contraindications. There have been cholera outbreaks in Mogadishu, Kismayo in the south, and Puntland in the northeast.
Presently there is a Polio out-break in Somalia. The majority of cases have been reported in the region of Benadir, including Mogadishu.
Safety and Security
Since the United States does not have an Embassy or any other diplomatic presence in any part of Somalia, including Somaliland and Puntland, the U.S. government cannot provide any consular services to U.S. citizens in Somalia. Limited services for U.S. citizens are available for travelers to Somalia at the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Djibouti.
While Somaliland has experienced a level of stability that has not been present in other parts of Somalia, please note that the Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against all travel to Somalia, including the self-proclaimed “Independent Republic of Somaliland” -- see the Department’s Travel Warning for Somalia. Travelers insisting on visiting Somaliland despite this warning should check current conditions in Somaliland before embarking on their journey. Terrorist attacks have occurred against international relief workers, including Westerners, throughout Somalia, including Puntland and Somaliland. In every year since 2008, there have been violent kidnappings and assassinations, including by suicide bombing, of local and foreign staff working for international organizations. Additionally, there have been threats against Westerners in Somalia, including Somaliland. No area in Somalia should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for hostile acts, either targeted or random, against U.S. and other Western nationals at any time. Despite improved security in Mogadishu, insurgents have conducted 12 high profile attacks in 2013. These attacks have consisted of complex assaults, improvised explosive device (IED) detonations and suicide bombings. Insurgents target various Somali government facilities continuously in Mogadishu.
On September 7, suicide bombers killed nearly 20 people at a restaurant popular with government officials and foreigners.The attempted kidnapping of a visiting Swedish politician and the death of her driver and translator on August 21, 2013 in Mogadishu is an example of the risks travelers face in Mogadishu. Terrorist operatives and armed groups in Somalia have demonstrated the intent to attack UN compounds and other places frequented by foreigners in Mogadishu, including Mogadishu International Airport. Recent terrorist attacks, including a vehicular born improvised explosive device (VBIED) attack at the United Nations Common Compound in Mogadishu on June 19, 2013 and the VBIED attack on the Turkish diplomatic residence in Mogadishu on July 27, 2013, demonstrate that al-Shabaab retains the capability to target Westerners and international aid workers in Mogadishu. Additionally, al-Shabaab controls portions of southern and central Somalia. Persons traveling to Somalia should be aware that incidents such as armed banditry, road assaults, kidnappings for ransom, shootings and grenade attacks on public markets, and detonations of anti-personnel and-vehicle land mines occur in most parts of the country. Al-Shabaab remains engaged in active warfare against the central government and regional administrations, including Puntland and Galmuduug. Also, illegal roadblocks by armed men, sometimes in government uniforms, remain common throughout Somalia and have resulted in serious injury or death.
Cross-border violence occurs periodically. The area near Somalia’s border with Kenya has been the site of numerous violent incidents, ranging from large-scale clashes between al-Shabaab and the central government to kidnappings, and grenade attacks on hostels used by international aid workers. U.S. citizens who decide to visit the area should be aware that they could encounter such incidents.
U.S. citizens considering seaborne travel around Somalia’s coast should exercise extreme caution, given the threat of vessel hijacking and/or piracy off south central Somalia and Puntland. When transiting in and around the Horn of Africa and/or in the Red Sea, it is strongly recommended that vessels convoy and maintain good communications contact at all times. Marine channels 13 and 16 VHF-FM are international call-up and emergency channels and are commonly monitored by ships at sea. The HF international call-up and emergency channel is 2182 MHz. In the Gulf of Aden, transit routes farther offshore reduce, but do not eliminate, the risk of contact with suspected assailants. Wherever possible, travel in trafficked sea-lanes. Avoid loitering in or transiting isolated or remote areas. In the event of an attack, consider activating the “Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB).” In the Gulf of Aden, vessels may also contact the Yemeni Coast Guard 24-hour Operations Center at (967) 1-562-402. The Operations Center staff speaks English. Due to distances involved, there may be a considerable delay before assistance arrives.
The United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) has advised that elevated regional tensions have increased the risk of maritime attacks being conducted by violent extremists to vessels operating in the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Bab el Mandeb regions.
MARAD recommends vessels at anchor, operating in restricted maneuvering environments, or at slow speeds should be especially vigilant, and report suspicious activity. U.S. flag vessels that observe suspicious activity in the area are advised to report such suspicious activity or any hostile or potentially hostile action to COMUSNAVCENT battle watch captain at phone number 011-973-1785-3879. All suspicious activities and events are also to be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at the following toll free telephone: 1-800-424-8802, direct telephone 202-267-2675, or TDD 202-267-4477. The complete advisory is available on the MARAD website at www.MARAD.DOT.gov.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Somalia you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. There are no traffic lights anywhere in Somalia. The poor condition of most roads makes driving hazardous. Night driving can be dangerous due to the absence of lighting. In many areas, drivers risk explosion of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) or landmines.