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The dust is settling in Somalia where some semblance of peace is seemingly nurturing a rare kind of normalcy. Its capital Mogadishu, a restive town known for wars and woes, is emerging from the edge of an abyss to reclaim its lost glory.
Opportunities are slowly picking up, Somalis are drumming up businesses, and corporate companies are finding time to put a stake in the ground, providing a new lease of life altogether.
Most companies are now scaling up their operations to take advantage of the transformation of Mogadishu and other South-central parts of the Horn of Africa nation.
In Mogadishu, countless tall towers and beautiful buildings garbed in company slogans grace most streets and alleyways attracting the eye of both local and international investors.
“This is all about the future development of Somalia,” a Somali analyst, Professor Mohamed Amiin, told Somalia Report. “People are making great commerce in a country wracked by decades of conflict”
But all is not lost in the war-torn country. Despite the endless conflict, commercial companies have been braving the harsh business environment since the downfall of the nation in 1991, offering all-time important services to the stateless and troubled Somali populations.
In a combined and ambitious effort, business-savvy Somalis formed private firms to bolster the country’s economy and people. Striving to develop while still in conflict.
Among sectors that have been thriving in failed Somalia includes that of the telecommunication industry where revolutionary digital technology has provided more opportunities for investment. Economic analysts believe that Somalia has some of the best telecommunications systems in Africa, with handful of companies offering competitive and affordable data and voice services.
The speedy development of technology in Somalia comes as numerous telecommunications companies compete to fill the gap left behind by the absence of a functional government.
One of the largest companies that tapped into the telecommunication sector, Hormuud Telecom Somalia Inc., was formed in 2002 by a group of almost 600 share holders and it has now about 4000 employees with sales surpassing $40 million a year. For the past decade, companies like Hormuud have been offering reliable telephone services with affordable local and international calls often serving the parched and bare regions of the much devastated South of the country. One of Hormuud’s shareholders, Ahmed Mohamed, told Somalia Report that initially their main target was to address the nationwide necessity for basic communication services amid the statelessness.
“This was only to help our own country and people, because you know Somalia has been without a government for a long time. We started linking the people through communication which also inspired many business groups to form companies.”
Over the years, cutthroat competition among the existing telecommunication companies has allowed calling rates to drop drastically, and in the business of offering unmatched services, some of the firms started introducing new brands and products to meet the high market demand where communication is a handy tool.
For instance, mobile banking is taking root in Somalia as service providers and the informal banking industry popularly known as Hawala cooperate to enhance their operations.
“What is interesting for me is the internet phone which I use most of my time both at home and at work. This is the most important thing that the telecom companies ever brought in the country since their formation,” says Hamdi Isaakh a 28 year old Mogadishu resident. “These days we also use mobile banking enabling us to send money easily”
In this line of investment, Hormuud competes with other giant telecommunication companies such as Nation Link, Telecom-Somalia, Soma phone and Orbit.
Most companies provide landline services for about US$10 dollar per month for each telephone line, while mobile cost depends on personal usage with automated scratch cards available in most parts of the country. Somalia’s telecommunication advancement contends with that of its neighbors. Kenya, for instance which is the biggest economy in the Eastern Africa region have only four communication providers. They are Safaricom, Celtel, Orange and Yu.
But telecommunication is not the only line of business in Somalia, like any other country in the developing world the growth of media provides a new kind of profit-making investment.
Private media companies are increasingly making forays into the wracked country’s markets as multi-million businesses take centre stage in the rebuilding of Somalia. Currently there are about 26 radio and TV stations operating in Mogadishu and surrounding towns.
“We established this radio station to help bring reliable news to our audiences. We have an increasing number of audiences, most of them listen to news and programs that we air on a daily basis” says, Osman Abdulah Guureh one of the directors of Radio Kulmiye, a leading broadcaster in Mogadishu. “We air advertisements to earn income from local businesses and companies”
State owned Radio Mogadishu and Somali National TV are two public broadcasters that compete for audiences with a good number of mushrooming privately owned stations. Among these stations are Radio Shabelle, Radio Kulmiye, Radio Mustaqbal, Radio Dalsan, Radio Banaadir, Radio Simba, Radio Risaala, Radio Xurmo, Radio Sahan, Radio Danan, Radio Maanta, Radio Voice of Peace, Radio Juba among others.
With the lack of a central government and market regulations, media houses have taken advantage of the situation, operating and opening up new ventures testing the tenacity of the markets while earning revenue from proceeds of infomercials and commercial advertisements. (For an overview of the media landscape in Somaliland, please click here.)
To strengthen their relationship with the rest of the world and more boldly with their Diaspora community, Somalis have also managed to sustain a free market economy where other businesses such as internet services are also taking a crucial role.
According to Internet World Stats, an international website that features up to date global Internet Usage, Population Statistics, Travel Stats and Internet Market Research Data, the number of Somali internet users has significantly risen from about 200 users in 2000 to about 102,000 in 2009.
Today Mogadishu and other parts of southern Somalia are served by four internet firms. Global Internet, Wanaag, and Unitel Wireless companies are operating competitively in the networking market.