First Published: 2010-12-10

 

Meet Mike Spencer Bown, Somalia first tourist

 

Mogadishu's 'first tourist' puzzles immigration officials who tried to put him back on the plane.

 

Middle East Online

By Mustafa Haji Abdinur - MOGADISHU

They thought that the Canadian was either mad or a spy

When Mike Spencer Bown disembarked from his flight in Mogadishu this week and described himself as a tourist, Somali immigration officials thought the Canadian man was either mad or a spy.

"They tried four times to put me back on the plane to get rid of me but I shouted and played tricks until the plane left without me," the 41-year-old told an AFP correspondent in Mogadishu on his hotel's roof terrace.

Somali officials then tried to hand him over to the African Union military force in Mogadishu, refusing to believe that he was in the city for pleasure.

"We have never seen people like this man," Omar Mohamed, an immigration official, said Friday. "He said he was a tourist, we couldn't believe him. But later on we found he was serious."

"That makes him the first person to come to Mogadishu only for tourism but unfortunately this is not the right time," he added.

The world traveller claims to have visited 160 countries since he sold his business in Indonesia years ago and he had yet to tick Somalia -- which has been devastated by a brutal civil conflict for almost 20 years -- off his list.

Mogadishu is one of the world's most dangerous capitals, a place where no foreigner can survive very long without heavy protection, but Bown said he had hoped to see Somalia's beaches and landscapes.

"I knew that Somalia plunged into civil strife nearly the day I started travelling but it was still on my list of places on the globe I should tour," he said at the heavily-guarded hotel where he stayed two days.

"I did not know the part of the country the government controls was so incredibly small," he said.

Somalia used to attract some visitors before it plunged into chaos following the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre.

Mogadishu's Italian architecture and tree-lined avenues were renowned but the city is now a field of ruins where life is cheap.

"Somalia is the last and most dangerous country on my list and once I’m here in Mogadishu, I feel I made it," he said, explaining that he has already travelled to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Even though I was told not go beyond the gate of the hotel for security reasons, I still found Somalia an interesting place with funny people," the backpacker said.

"Everyone I met kept laughing whenever they heard the word tourist," he said.

Bown flew out Friday and has already posted on his Facebook page pictures of himself in Mogadishu holding an assault rifle or a rocket-propelled grenade under the heading "The first tourist in Mogadishu".

He quotes Ovid, T.S. Eliot and Camus in his profile but obviously has little time for the Canadian High Commission's website, which bears a yellow warning with a danger sign advising against all travel to Somalia on its homepage.

"Now my trip around the globe is almost finished. There will be only small islands that are left for me to visit," he said, flinching slightly at the crackle of machine-gun fire from a nearby street.

The traveller said he would have been keen to meet the tourism minister to raise the issue of tourist guides and guidebooks for Somalia, which he found to be in very short supply when he planned his trip in the region.

"But to my surprise, Somalia has no such minister on the cabinet list," said Bown, adding that he would post information on the Internet for globetrotters wishing to emulate him.

 

Egypt state prosecutor dead after Cairo bomb attack

Islamic State 'caliphate' enters second year with more bloodshed

Turkey holds top security meet

Tunisia to arm tourist police after Sousse attack

Qatar concedes 'much more needs to be done' on labour law

Britons death toll in Tunisia attack to soar to 'around 30'

US official says method found for access to suspect Iran sites

Israel to Syria rebels: 'Don't mess with the Druze'

Iranians anxious as talks stumble

'Unprecedented situation' for Sudan's journalists

Egypt's state prosecutor injured in bomb attack

UAE woman sentenced to death for killing US teacher

Israel escorts flotilla defying Gaza blockade

Repatriation of two Tunisians once held by CIA

Key confidante of Syria president dies of illness

Libya rival factions sit at same table for first time

Students may have left Sudan for ‘Islamic State’

Tense nuclear talks set to go beyond deadline as differences remain

Kuwait names Saudi man as suicide bomber in mosque attack

Armed police swarm streets of Tunisia beach resorts

Turkey wants more walls on border with Syria

Tunisia unites in pain and shock as hope slips away

Abadi: ‘Unauthorised’ withdrawal of Iraq forces led to loss of Ramadi

Negotiators ‘need to work really hard’ as nuclear talks begin

Iraq arrests Saddam-era official following arduous operation

Syria Kurds take full control of Kobane after killing spree by jihadists

Kuwait tightens security after mosque attack

Thousands of scared tourists scramble to leave Tunisia

Qatar’s Advisory Council rejects labour reform

Tunisia seaside massacre deals heavy blow to tourism

Kuwait to hold mass funeral for IS attack victims

37 dead in Tunisia beach attack

Essebsi: Tunisia cannot respond alone to jihadist threat

Israel urges French Jews to flee after factory attack

Saudi pursuing own nuclear projects to counter Iran

Islamic State claim Shiite mosque bombing in Kuwait

Somali Shebab overrun African Union base

Vatican under fire from Israel

Palestinians submit Israeli war crimes files to ICC

Islamic State massacre civilians in Syria’s Kobane

One decapitated, several injured in France terrorist attack

Egypt, US to hold 'strategic dialogue' in July amid warming ties

Libya rivals return to Morocco for new peace talks

Eritrean asylum seekers protest in Israel

Palermo mayor: Migrant crisis in Med tantamount to 'genocide'