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 Im 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.


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