Without Wikipedia, Amina Duale wouldn’t be able to point out her country on a map. Literally, her father’s place of birth does not appear on many maps, atlases, globes or even Google Maps.
The Republic of Somaliland is an autonomous state in the northwest of Somalia, with its own functional parliament, constitution and armed forces. But it is not always recognized by the international community, and good information on the unofficial country is relatively scant.
“If you Google Somaliland, you’ll find it on Wikipedia,” says Duale. “Without that, nobody really gets to know that Somaliland is a republic that exists.”
That’s why Duale, who works as a business consultant with non-profit and non-governmental organizations in South Sudan, Somaliland, Puntland, and other new and contested nations in Africa, donates to Wikipedia.
The article on Somaliland is, as Duale says, one of the few comprehensive, independent sources on the first few pages of Google. But the connection she feels to the site is more personal.
“I thank God for Wikipedia because my life is in it. I am represented,” she says, counting herself as one of the 3.5 million inhabitants of Somaliland.
Like many regions that make up the Horn Of Africa, Somaliland’s recent history has been turbulent. In the early part of the 20th century, it was an area controlled by the British. But since there was no abundance of natural resources, Britain used Somaliland as a stopover on trips to India, and ceded control over the territory in 1960.
That year, British Somaliland merged with Italian Somaliland to form the independent Somali Republic. It was a short-lived country brought down by a military coup d’etat in 1969, which installed Major General Mohamed Siad Barre, then head of the military, as president.
Siad Barre controlled Somalia for 21 years, but became increasingly authoritarian as his tenure continued. Another coup d’etat in 1991, staged by a variety of different factions in region, resulted in the Somali Civil War. In 1991, the war brought down Siad Barre, and a new country, present-day Somalia, would be formed.
Somaliland, conceived by one of the several groups who fought in the civil war, would declare its independence from Somalia that same year. Since then, the would-be nation has been relatively safe and stable compared to southern Somalia – a little known fact outside of the region, according to Duale.
“There are safer places in Somaliland, but you don’t hear about that on mainstream media,” she says. “And that is really a crime, because you’re saying that almost half of a population does not exist.“
Indeed, Al-Shabaab, the Somali sect of the militant Islamist group al-Qaeda, is not a threat in Somaliland, and the gangs of pirates centered around Mogadishu have limited presence there too.
“The crucial part is that Wikipedia talks about places that are not mentioned in mainstream media. If you go to BBC or CNN or many of these mainstream media, they hardly talk about Somaliland. They report that Somalia has been without a government since the 1991 Civil War, which is not true,” she complains.
“It has been a very long and painful history and just to know that we are recognized in Wikipedia, for me that’s an honor really.”
Duale decided to repay that honor when she saw Wikipedia’s fundraising drive last year. In order for the Wikipedia page on Somaliland to compete with what she considers misinformation in the commercial press, she needed to donate.
“For me, Wikipedia is one of the few places I can go to get accurate and independent information. I don’t mind sending $10 or $20 every month. Wikipedia belongs to all of us, and it’s our duty as a community to keep it going.”
Profile by Joshua Errett, Wikimedia Foundation Communications volunteer
Interview by Victor Grigas, Wikimedia Foundation Storyteller