PUNTLAND Taking its name from the legendary land known to the ancient Egyptians as Punt, the autonomous state of Puntland comprises the far northeast of the country, including Cape Guardafui, the most easterly point in Africa. It came into existence in August 1998 as a result of the escalating clan warfare that had engulfed southern Somalia since the downfall of Siad Barre, and its constitution was hammered out at a three-month constitutional conference held in Garoowe – attended by the region’s most prominent politicians, clan elders, businessmen, and intellectuals. Its political structure is not dissimilar to that of Somaliland, with clan elders playing an important role in supporting the democratically elected president, but unlike its western neighbour it has never sought formal independence and its long-term goal is to be a federal state within greater Somalia.
The capital of Puntland, Garoowe, set along the main road between Hargeisa and Mogadishu on the unofficial border with Somaliland, is the seat of parliament and site of the presidential palace and government ministries. Despite its fast-growing population, currently estimated at 60,000, Garoowe is only the third-largest city in the territory, after the commercial capital and port of Bosaso, which supports a population of around 500,000, and the similarly sized inland city of Galkayo, which has a disputed location on the border of Somalia proper.
Although it is peaceful by comparison to southern Somalia, Puntland has endured considerable internal conflict, and sporadic fighting between Puntland and Somaliland has also occurred in the Sool and Sanaag regions – which are generally regarded to be part of Somaliland but are also claimed by Puntland on the basis of ethnicity. As a result, the eastern regions of Somaliland are relatively unstable and travel within them is restricted. Travel in Puntland itself is currently unsafe and emphatically not recommended.
Puntland is regarded to be the main base for the Somali pirates responsible for hundreds of attacks and hijackings of merchant ships and other seafaring vessels, in the Gulf of Aden and further afield, since 2005. Although the Puntland government has claimed to be taking steps to control the piracy, it has met with limited success. Indeed, by December 2010, it was estimated that at least four pirate bands were active in the region, collectively comprising 1,000 individuals, and holding at least 35 ships and more than 650 people hostage. In part, the inability to control the piracy is because it has a high level of local support. The pirate bands bring considerable wealth into an otherwise impoverished territory – their income from ransom was estimated at almost US$60 million in 2009 and more than US$200 million in 2010 – and the attacks are often justified as a legitimate response to the widespread illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste by foreign ships along the Somali coast.