23 October, 2012

Somaliland: The place that combines hightech, on the edge financing solutions, and millenia old traditions

Somaliland: The place that combines hightech, on the edge financing solutions, and millenia old traditions

Somaliland is a place full of contradictions. In a good way. It is a place made up of clans. It is not a recognised country (the other two bits are Somalia and Puntland), but it has its own administration, its own immigration, police force, army and currency. It seems to work. The clan structure is complicated, yet the rules are very clear. For more on this I recommend “Getting Somalia Wrong” by Mary Harper.

It could be seen as a start-up country, with plans still being implemented, amended and implemented again. During this process, the Somalis are extremely polite and welcoming. And aware.

There are hardly any cars, yet when three cars and two donkey carts meet in a round-about, there will be traffic jam. Right hand steered cars on the right hand side. It is like Nairobi before the roads were widened, or the city in London before it banned cars. Not fully adjusted to modern day transport.

Yet, last year, 1.6 billion MUSD was transferred in a Dahabshiil, a money transfer set up with Somaliland as its hub. 1.6 billion MUSD, and most likely yet in its infancy as a business. It is one of a few.

The capital city of Somaliland, Hargeysa, was leveled during the war. Clans enemy to the clans resident in Hargeysa used the airport of Hargeysa for its bombers. The was nothing left of the city. Empty. That was 20 years ago. Today Hargeysa has 1.5 million inhabitants. Business is thriving, the economy is dollar based (the local currency is pegged), and it is cheaper to call Europe than it is to call within Europe, or even within Sweden.

The level of education is surprisingly high, including top universities form across our small planet. There are also 16-20 universities in Somaliland. They might lack some of the resources you find in Europe and the US, but the students are very committed, they have access to the same internet as everyone else, and the teachers are often returning Somali diaspora. Highly educated. Hungry for development. Problem solving. Even strategic.

There are harldy any really established businesses present, yet all businesses seem to have ancient traditions. Running these businesses are people wth PhDs in entrepreneurship and 700 year long familiy trees. They know what their forefathers did, and how they did it. Ask any European aristocracy, and with few exceptions they will draw blank on both.

All Somalis are traders I am told. Very little value added in the country. Trading camels (you should see the camel trains heading towards the ocean twice a year), powder milk, juice, fruit, junk food, and so on. Value adding is slowly being introduced, and I am amazed to see how structured and well planned the execution of this is. CocaCola has a new franchise set up (2012). There are dairies being set up. This is a small start, but in the context of Somaliland it is a revolution. It shows new ways for how to do things. An example for others to follow. Replace import with domestic production. Be less of a victim.

Goats that are not farmed properly eat everything they walk past. In combination with charcoal producers, they leave the landscape barren and dusty. Not the central African red dust, but sandy dust. Precipitation has come down the last 20 years. More trees are needed. Fewer free roaming goats as well.

The country is dry not only in terms of lack of water. There is no beer or booze around. This might seem as no big deal, but in the counsulting and NGO sectors (the two sectors that make business here) this is a topic for lengthy, heated and repeated discussion. During my week long stay, I have been quizzed several times if I have found something. I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking.

Weirdly enough, from a drug acceptance perspective, kat (mira), or chat as it is pronounced in Hargeysa, is very accepted. Many of the men seem to disappear after lunch to sit together and chew it. They claim it makes them more alert, which makes sense if you look at the content. You see some stagger around a few hours later, so that is likely not the whole story. The women say they hate it, yet the majority of outlets are run by women, and the trade as such rests in the hands of a few very rich females. We are talking private planes rich.

Safety is not an issuse. When you leave the town, you have to bring armed security, but I am not sure why. The informant culture is very strong, and it is clear that they know what is going on. When I leave the hotel, it comes as no surprise to the randomly selected restaurant that I am showing up. Late at night you will find women walking dark streets alone or in pairs. That would not happen in many cities of Europe.

Plastic bags is a curse anywhere in the world you go. Somaliland is no exception. Thin and useless plastic pieces float around, and eventually get stuck in the vegetation, eaten by grazing animals. The chat is sold in them, which explains the proliferation.

Hargeysa has plenty of electricity. Which is more than you can say for most cities in Africa. There are just below 10 individual power companies running diesel generators around the city. The electricity is expensive, but plentyful, and people use it in abundance. TV, radio, fridge, etc. As diaspora many of them have picked up habits that are not yet common in other parts of Africa.

The wiring of the electricity deserves a blog entry of its own. Here I just give you an illustration.

In short, Hargeysa is a fantastic place! It has character, and the people here know what obstacles they have to overcome. They also have a pretty good idea of how to do it. The competence and the skill set here could make the difference for the whole region.

by Jesper Hornberg /Energymindfulness


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