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How to Plan a Trip to Somalia

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From time to time I am asked by big-name foreign correspondents whether it is safe to visit Somalia. Often it seems as if I am the 27th person they have called as they try to find the one person who says: "Ah, sure you'll be fine." Sometimes they do actually listen to my advice but I can't help thinking that the current feeling among many outsiders is that the Nairobi press corps has lost its bottle. Rather than take a bit of a risk, they probably think, we're content to sit on our arses and cover Somalia by phone. So to save me having to dispense any more advice to rather impatient award-winning types, here is my cut-out-and-keep decision model for anyone thinking of a trip...

1) Have you been to Somalia before? If yes proceed to 2. If no proceed to 3
2) Were you kidnapped on that occasion? If yes proceed to 4. If no proceed to 5
3) Have you been to Iraq or Afghanistan? If yes proceed to 7. If no proceed to 6
4) Then you should know better. Don't go
5) Then your luck is probably about to run out. Don't go
6) Then what are you thinking of? Don't go
7) Then you are probably under the impression that you can hide in the green zone and wait for an embed to go somewhere interesting. In Somalia there's no green zone, and the only embeds are with Ethiopian or African Union soldiers who are being blown to smithereens on a daily basis. There's no-one you can trust. And no-one who can guarantee your safety. Don't go


Vasco Pyjama | December 3, 2008 7:22 AM | Reply

Well said. I echo. I had been to Afghanistan. Lived there. But I was not ready for Somalia.

There’s no-one you can trust. And no-one who can guarantee your safety.

No shit. And when you think that a combatant group can guarantee your safety, think again.

Tamar | December 3, 2008 7:59 AM | Reply


Paul C | December 3, 2008 1:04 PM | Reply

Bang on - Somalia remains top of my list of "places that I won't work". However I guess some people see it as a rite of passage - a test of their "Robert Young Pelton" credentials?

dd | December 4, 2008 6:38 AM | Reply

Best logistical analysis I've seen!

Anonymous | December 4, 2008 8:24 AM | Reply

Too friggin right, Martin. I've got Christmas to look forward to

Mona | December 4, 2008 12:18 PM | Reply

Spot on. There's no comparison to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Joe Lowry | December 8, 2008 12:40 PM | Reply

I was there in 1993 wiht GOAL for five months. Looking back on it I was bloody lucky to get out alive, not everyone did, and not everyone took the risks a 27-year-old naive show-off would have. But we did have people we trusted, literally with our lives, and they did save our stupid skins, more than once. But good people, wonderful people, were killed. Weigh up the risks, they are very high, and knowing that can you really risk leaving loved ones? Does that arguement work for smokers?

Rohan Jayasekera | December 8, 2008 1:22 PM | Reply

Well, I did Iraq and Afghanistan and a few other places, including Sri Lanka & Bosnia, where I was kidnapped (albeit briefly but undeniably uncomfortably) and I'm perfectly able to believe my Somali and non-Somali colleagues' word that Somalia is a class apart from all of them.

But how can we accept that (apart from suicide peltonistas. I guess) Somalia is just... closed.


Anonymous | December 8, 2008 1:27 PM | Reply

I think the other point to make is that a lot of humanitarian work there at the moment is not only not helping, but positively making things worse - see DfID's decision to stop supporting the UNDP Rule of Law and Security work. Benefits minimal (to negative) and risks high.

Not a tough one

Jake Simkin | August 21, 2009 6:21 AM | Reply

I'm going!

What do you think?