Resilience in the dust

The landscape below is made of earth colours, paled by the sun. The highlands of eastern Ethiopia look just as dry as Somaliland, my destination. I am travelling to the country, not recognised by any other state in the world, to cover the drought and the subsequent hunger it brought to its people.

I am thrilled to be back after 19 years in the country that does not exist, but has a government, own currency and it hosts once a year a fabulous international book fair. But the reason for returning to Somaliland is miserable as at least one third of the population goes hungry. They are mainly nomads, who’s animals have died due to the drought and leaving them destitute and hungry.

The thought of portraying Somali’s people as hungry and begging for help is tapping into how the West is already thinking about countries in Africa. War, disease, hunger, begging. Those are the images of Africa in the West. I don’t want to confirm that nonsense. There is so much more about the fifty plus, extremely diverse countries on the continent.

After deliberation with Trouw newspaper I try to bring across not the stereotypes but the reality. Is sit in the rare spots of shadow as the landscape is mostly void of trees. I ask about their plight, but also about what the government and they themselves could do to avoid hunger even when droughts hit the country. While dust devils dancing their macabre solos in the background the nomads, men, women and even children, come up with possible solutions.Planting trees and chopping less trees for charcoal are the most heard ideas. But where to get the seedlings from, on which land and how to cook without charcoal? Solutions bring along more questions

The government has little money for solutions as most of the budget goes to security to keep the radical Al Shabaab out of the country. The nomads, in days of plenty rich in cattle, have the ideas but often lack the knowledge how to carry them out. A little assistance would go a long way.

One of the old man remarks that Somaliland after 26 years of existence no longer asks for recognition. “But can you not send some teachers who can train our well educated youth in how we can prevent the hunger coming together with the droughts?”