Somaliland: the country without mail

Today is World Post Day, celebrated every October 9 to mark the anniversary of the foundation of the Universal Postal Union in 1874. More than 150 countries celebrate this day honoring something that’s so vital to our lives but is generally taken for granted.

In Somaliland they aren’t celebrating, because they don’t have a postal system. No other country recognizes Somaliland as a nation and therefore it can’t get membership in the Universal Postal Union. Somaliland is the northern third of former Somalia and declared independence in 1991. After a bloody war of independence it developed a government, law enforcement, a viable economy, and infrastructure while neighboring Puntland became a haven for pirates and southern Somalia was torn apart by warlords and terrorists.

When I was traveling in Somaliland last year I was based in Hargeisa, the capital. Unlike much of the region, the lights stayed on around the clock, the streets were safe, and businesses were thriving. When I visited the central post office, however, I found an empty ruin.

SomalilandSo what does a country without mail do to get, um, mail? Courier services are widely used, and there’s broadband Internet in the capital. In fact, they had the fastest Internet connection I’ve ever seen in Africa! Some Somalis told me the lack of a postal system actually encouraged the development of Internet Service Providers.

Still, it would have been nice to have been able to send postcards to my friends from this nation that doesn’t officially exist. Of course I didn’t actually see any postcards for sale, because there was no way to send them. With the rest of the world recognizing the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu, which doesn’t even control all of Mogadishu, it doesn’t look like we’re going to be seeing any postcards from Somaliland anytime soon.

Postcard fans trade four million cards

Who says snail mail is dying?

Postcrossing is an organization where strangers from different countries can trade postcards. Once you get a free membership, you can request to send a card and another member’s address is sent to you, along with a unique country-coded number. You pick a card, write a message along with the code, and mail it. Once the recipient gets the card and registers it on the site, you’re next in line to get a card from a different stranger.

With almost 170,000 members from 209 countries, it’s a fast-growing club of postcard fans. So fast growing, in fact, that today they reached the landmark of trading four million cards. They only reached two million cards barely a year ago, so this idea is really catching on.

We’ve posted about Postcrossing in more detail here, and revealed the names of some Gadling bloggers past and present who are members. As one of them I can say it’s a lot of fun and a great way to teach your kids about the world. So if you like getting and sending postcards, give it a try and help Postcrossing get to five million cards sometime before the end of 2010.

Postcards have been around since the late 1800s. The card included here dates from 1919 and shows a place in Richmond, Virginia where three rail lines crossed one another. Personally I love the look of vintage cards, and many fellow Postcrossing members have received them from me.