Despite not having a functioning government for two decades, day-to-day life in Somalia presses on. “It’s like David Cameron’s dream of a Big Society, because the government barely exists there - businesses and people build the roads and make things work,” said Harper.
The same anarchy could perhaps be blamed for Colin Freeman’s very different experience in Somalia - that of a hostage.
“We went to Northern Somalia to tentatively see if we could interview a pirate - it wasn’t as stupid as it sounds,” he added. “If people have a message to get across, they’re receptive to talking to the press.”
Unfortunately for Freeman and Jose Cendon, the photographer travelling with him, they were kidnapped and taken hostage by the security detail they had paid to keep that very thing from happening.
Freeman’s book, Kidnapped: Life as a Somali Pirate Hostage, describes the task of staying alive while being shuttled through Somali caves, and staving off boredom. They tried establishing a rapport with the youngest of their kidnappers, who turned out to be an English football fan - so much so that he corrected Freeman’s own football knowledge.
“I didn’t want to write the book as a serious, angst-ridden piece,” Freeman said. “I wanted to tell it like you tell your mates in the pub.”
Freeman has continued reporting from abroad after his release from Somalia. “But after you’ve been kidnapped,” he said, “you realise you only have so many lives in that line of journalism.”
Still, all three have been bitten by the bug. Harper returns to Somalia soon and Anderson continues to report from the front line, giving the conventional wisdom a run for its money.
The Dulwich Book Festival was run by Dulwich Books, recently awarded as London’s best independent bookshop.
All three authors’ books are available to buy on Telegraph Books: