Gabriel C. Pérez | Hargeisa: The "Roofless City" No Longer

“The roofless city” was the name once given to the battered city of Hargeisa, Somaliland.  The moniker arose after fierce aerial bombardments beginning in 1988 by the government of Siad Barre, military dictator and President of the Republic of Somalia, against the capital of the separatist region.

The region is located in northwestern Somalia and had been fighting for independence long before official secession was announced in May 1991.  Now known as the Republic of Somaliland, the country is internationally-recognized as an autonomous region but not an independent state.

Due to its limited recognition, Somaliland has received relatively little international support in comparison to other African states.  This has not kept the country of 3.5 million however from working to re-build and strengthen the nation, as well as the national identity, in the times since Barre’s bombing campaigns.  The capitol of Hargeisa has been a model of this effort - growing steadily since the early 1990's and maintaining relative peace and autonomy from the government of Mogadishu. 

Hargeisa's people are proud and enterprising.  Commerce ranges from traditional means, such as livestock and myrrh, traded daily with rural Somalilanders entering the city; to the bustling shopping centers and private businesses found in the city's downtown central market.  In the cool of afternoon, crowds of men and women fill the streets of the city to socialize and chat, enjoying a sense of security not found in neighboring Somalia.  Views of the rapidly-growing city show little signs of its war-torn past.  Thousands of homes, businesses, and mosques have been rebuilt by hand, by Hargeisans themselves. 

Much more work is required in the city, and in the rest of the country, but the once "roofless city" and its people are a powerful testament to the will of that growth towards greater independence.


Locals frequently gather in Freedom Square for prayer and tea each afternoon under the Hargeisa War Memorial. The memorial commemorates the lives lost during the aerial bombardment of Hargeisa in 1988 by Siad Barre's regime. It features a recovered MiG-17 fighter aircraft of the Somali Air Force.

Money changers in downtown Hargeisa act as roadside bankers in lieu of a centralized banking system in Somaliland. Somaliland shillings are not internationally-recognized legal tender but are exchanged for a variety of foreign currencies by these money changers.

Hargeisans shop, eat, and socialize daily in the bustling Suuqa Bacadlaha market. A vendor poses with his camel at the city's main camel market - the Senlaola Hoolaha. Even with the rapid modernization of cities such as Hargeisa and Berbera, many of the county's rural populations rely on animal husbandry as their main source of income. Somalilanders from rural regions across the nation come to this market to trade with Hargeisans as well as other livestock herders. Teenagers play at a popular park on the outskirts of the city. A man at a bus depot in the center of the city. A billboard in downtown Hargeisa commemorates June 26, 1960 - the date on which the State of Somaliland received independence from the British government. Soon after, on July 1, 1960, the state united with the Trust Territory of Somalia to form the Somali Republic, now Somalia. Dusk in a residential area of Hargeisa.