July 19, 2012 ·10 Comments
External investments are helping to drag the Somali economy from famine to fortune in the face of common misconceptions
By Abdirashid Duale, CEO of Dahabshiil
Since the famine that swept the Horn of Africa last year, Somalia has been the focus of renewed attention from the global media. In many ways this has been positive. At the peak of the crisis, it helped to raise awareness and mobilise international aid efforts. Humanitarian organisations operating in the region worked tirelessly, and made faster progress than many were expecting. Food shortages are still affecting some areas, but one year on, the overall situation on the ground is significantly improved.
What is often apparent in mainstream coverage of Somalia however is a predisposition towards the depiction of a ‘failed state’. There is no doubt that there are many problems that have yet to be resolved, but as a growing number of commentators are pointing out, there are also grounds for optimism.
Trade and entrepreneurship are the lifeblood of the Somali people, and have flourished in many areas during the last two decades in spite of the hardships. Livestock, still the mainstay of the economy, is currently booming thanks to robust demand from Egypt and the Gulf. Other, more modern sectors are thriving too. The Somali telecoms industry is one of the most competitive and dynamic in Africa. Financial services, including those offered by our company, Dahabshiil, have also seen rapid expansion, and, like telecoms, are embracing the latest technology.
The story of Dahabshiil is in many ways coupled with the history of the Somali territories. It was founded in 1970 as a small enterprise that began to specialise in the transfer of remittances from migrant Somalis in the Gulf. 40 years later, it is the largest remittance firm in the region and operates in 150 countries. Recognising the growing synergies between money transfer and telecoms, in 2008 we invested in Somtel, a mobile telecoms firm with special expertise in mobile internet and broadband.
There have been two major international conferences on Somalia during the last four months: one in London at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and a second in Istanbul. As the CEO of a global company, I welcome these renewed shows of commitment by the international community and I believe both events could prove to be major milestones.
In many ways the Istanbul conference followed on from the London event, and took its outcomes and agreements a stage further. One of the things that most impresses me about the Turkish approach to the Somali territories is the recognition of the significance not just of our existing commercial successes, but of our economic potential, particularly in construction, real estate, mining and agriculture.
Following last year’s improvements in the security situation in Mogadishu, Turkish aid workers have built new hospitals and upgraded existing ones, improved access to safe drinking water, repaired damaged roads and started work on the construction of an international airport. In March, Turkish Airlines began regular flights to Mogadishu. Turkish aid to Somalis since early 2011, both in cash and in-kind, is now estimated to be well in excess of $350 million.
For its part, Dahabshiil has a long history of working with international organisations and aid agencies to support their operations throughout the region, and has been described by the UN as being ‘the only safe and efficient option to transfer fund to projects’. We donate millions each year to education, health and other projects, and adhere to a strict policy of non-discrimination, serving and employing Somalis and non-Somalis from all territories, regardless of their backgrounds or opinions.
Watch an Interview with Mr. Duale:
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