Somaliland | Photojournalist: Marco Gualazzini | PHOTOGRAPHERS |

Somaliland. The State that never was celebrates its twentieth anniversary. The Ethiopian border is marked with a cord. A dirt track in the midst of the Horn of Africa, chock-full of children, plastic and clapped-out minibuses. So does it exist or not, this state of Somaliland? It exists, because it has a president, a parliament, controlled territory… and even universities, state hospitals and an army. It doesn’t exist because no-one, or practically no-one, recognises it. A ghost country. Which, in 2011 celebrates its twentieth anniversary, but has no voice with which to tell it to the world.

Officially, Hargeisa – the capital – is still in Somalia. It resembles a primitive version of Sardinia: land inhabited by shepherds, sea by pirates. We are asking for a ransom to compensate the fishermen for the damage caused to the local economy by global traffic – says Hassan Ahmed Abdì, one of the Somali pirate captains, interviewed in his prison cell – the minute I get out of here, I shall return to fight this battle». Pirate, like other impoverished fishermen. Religion: Islam. Law: Shari’a. Currency: kilos of local shillings, a wad of flimsy notes to make up a dollar.

A country that wakes up early in the morning, bargains for camels at the market and then, at lunch-time, retreats indoors to chew khat, twigs with mildly amphetamine leaves. In the long run, its impact on the nation’s nervous system is corrosive. The women’s eyes tell myriad tales, while smiles are very few and far between. Years passed under the niqab. As far as the cord and that border, where the girls, crammed into the minibuses that shuttle to and fro, tear it from their faces, as though the day of liberation had come.