Jijiga is booming, in terms of population growth, infrastructural growth, investment, and business opportunity. The capital of Somali Regional State, Jijiga (also spelled Jigjiga) has expanded dramatically over the past five years of enhanced peace and security in the region. Having just returned from a month-long visit to Jijiga, I am writing this post as a brief synopsis on travel conditions and recommendations.
By local accounts and by my observation, the area is very calm and secure on a day-to-day basis, though longer-term regional security trends along the Somalia Border remain somewhat uncertain – particularly several hundred kilometers south of Jijiga, past Gode. People in Jijiga generally report that they are very happy with the government’s efforts to bring about security and development, and the construction boom and huge influx of diaspora returnees bear testament to perceptions of peace and opportunity among the global Somali community. If you are going around town after dark, you will need your passport because police checkpoints are fairly common (going across town between 10 PM and midnight, I usually encountered one or two checkpoints). Of course, anywhere you go you must take some precaution, but on the whole my experience spoke to the safe and welcoming atmosphere of Jijiga.
Travelers from Europe and North America are likely to meet many compatriots in Jijiga. About halfway through my visit I was walking down one of the side roads in the morning and a young woman rode up beside me on a bicycle, chewing an ‘adey (tooth-brushing stick) and with her face covered in facial cream. “Hey man, where’re you from?” She asked. “I’m from the US,” I replied.
“Hey, me too! I’m from Minneapolis! My name’s Farah. I’ll see you around!”
The diaspora is in the house.
Jijiga’s Development Boom
Sayyid Mohammed ‘Abdille Hassan, the “Mad Mullah” who plagued the British by leading a 20-year anti-colonial struggle at the turn of the 20th century, leads the charge of progress in Jijiga’s main roundabout (in statue form). On either side of the main road that runs East to West, new hotels and office complexes are going up quickly. It is fascinating how straight buildings emerge from the crooked scaffolding used during construction. Diaspora investment and government infrastructure development are two of the main forces driving this infrastructure boom. Diaspora returnees (called “Qurba Joog” in Somali) are taking advantage of the invitation offered by the Somali Regional State government, and invitation that has become the subject of numerous songs inviting the Qurba Joog to return and invest in the development of the Horn of Africa. Featuring prominently among the new buildings is a G+5 financed by Kaah, a Somali bank that has long provided financial transfers across far reaches of the globe.
Getting to Jijiga
International travelers will land in Addis Ababa before proceeding to Jijiga. You can fly to Jijiga on Ethiopian Airlines, or to Dire Dawa and take a 2.5-hour bus ride to Jijiga. Alternately, you can take a bus from Addis Ababa, which will take between 9 and 11 hours. If you are not in a hurry, I recommend the bus, as it is cheap (350 ETB, or about $15 US) and takes a beautiful route through the eastern highlands. Selam Bus and Sky Bus are up to Western standards and boast very good safety records. I cannot recommend the cheaper local buses (they may be fast, but the road is also winding and dangerous, and you will probably see some minibuses and trucks wrecked on the side of the road along the way). Selam Bus and Sky Bus leave from Meskel Square, Addis Ababa. Get tickets a few days in advance, as the buses leave very early in the morning and will probably be full.
Once in Jijiga
- Money: There are several ATMs in Jijiga that accept international VISA and Mastercard bank cards. One is located at the Commercial Bank of Ethiopian, Fafan Branch, on the main street near the pedestrian bridge on the west end of town. Another is beside the Bank of Abyssinia, two streets west of Sayyid Mohammed’s statue and just south of the main road.
- Transportation: The three-wheeledBajaj, an import from South Asia, is the vehicle of choice in Jijiga. Many of the drivers speak some English, but perhaps practice some Somali and/or Amharic before you go if you don’t speak them already (I’ve transliterated a few Somali examples below).
- “Wahaan rabaa inaa tago ______” (I want to go to ______)
- “_____ ii gee” (Take me to _____)
- “Waa immisaa la’agtii” or “Qaymiga waa mahay” (How much is it?)
- Lodging: Before coming to Jijiga, I looked at a travel guide that mentioned Nogob Garden, Hamda, and Bada hotels. When I was on the bus from Addis Ababa, I asked some people from Jijiga what was the best hotel and someone recommended Universal Hotel, so that is where I stayed during my visit. It is very clean, the staff is extremely friendly and helpful, and it is in a rather quieter area of town than Hamda or Nogob Garden, both of which are on the main road (but on opposite sides of town). The newly opened City Crown Hotel just north of Jijiga city center is another option; it is located on the main north-south road. Nogob Garden, Universal, and Safari Hotel are all out on the east side of the city, near the University and closer to the airport. From that side it’s about a 20-minute walk or a 15-birr bajaj ride (or 2 birr by Force with several other passengers) to the center of town.
- Food: Hilib geel (camel meat) and ‘aano geel (camel milk) are a must in Jijiga. For the full Somali experience, I recommend Raaho restaurant (Raaxo), near the town center. Given the heavily gendered dynamic of public space in the culture here, I have to say that I recommend this for men only. There are only Somali men eating there, as far as I have seen. It is the stereotypical Somali place, with people seeming to yell at each other (you would think they were about to fight, but then they shake hands and hug), pushing to get to the water tap to wash hands, and sloshing maraq (soup) from bowls onto the tables as the bowls are passed around. Try the camel hump meat, but don’t eat too much. If it’s your first time, expect your stomach to run a little bit later in the day or the following morning. Also ask around and you will find the opportunity to milk camels either at a small farm inside Jijiga or at a number of locations on the outskirts of town.
- Food from smaller vendors is cheap and delicious. You can find plates of fresh injera for about 10-15 birr (50-75 cents US) that will fill you up. Look for any of the little restaurants tucked away behind flimsy corrugated tin walls.The hotels all have restaurants as well, but tend to be a little more expensive. Expect to pay around 60-100 birr ($3-5 US) for a meal for one person. Amira’s and Ayaan’s are restaurants near the old location of the Taiwan Market just south of the main road in the town center. Both are good. Among the best options in my opinion is Qarrijiqood, owned by diaspora investors but managed by local guys. Qarrijiqood Restaurant is located between the Regional President’s compound and the new Taiwan market. The cooks are top-notch, the restaurant provides free wireless to customers, and seating options range from outdoor tables to traditional seating on the carpets in the rear of the restaurant.
If you are planning to travel to Jijiga and would like a trustworthy guide to show you around town, please contact me and I can provide contacts for some drivers who grew up in the area.