Thursday, April 20, 2017

Somalilanders: Natural Entrepreneurs

By Mohammed Ahmed Ali (Medeshi) -  “Somalis are naturally entrepreneurs“ were some of the words of President George Bush Junior when he ordered the closure of money remittance services to Somalia after the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11.

He was right. It relates to centuries of tradition in the Somaliland nomadic trade system of export and exchange of commodities.

Before the urbanisation in some regions of Somaliland, nomads brought hides and skins and livestock to the market and exchanged them for sugar, rice, dates and clothes. Some nomads would give a few sheep or goats on credit to a merchant who would export them to Aden in Yemen and who later brought back food, clothes and other commodities for the nomad’s family.





Nomads trade with the cities and towns of Somaliland still continues. Women bring milk in containers from the villages and nomadic areas to markets for sale. This mode of trade which dates back centuries shows how entrepreneurship is embedded in Somaliland culture and traditions.

In modern times, Somaliland is not a recognised country and yet it holds a high position among the African countries that have self-made entrepreneurs. The traditional entrepreneurial spirit means that Somalis now run huge companies like Telesom, Daallo Airlines, Guul group, WorldRemit, Dahabshiil and more. Entrepreneurship is a phenomenon that is in the blood of the people of Somaliland which is often enhanced by education. These business-minded people are also encouraged by the ample business opportunities in Somaliland.

There are thousands of small businesses run by both men and women in Somaliland. Women dominate small businesses such as shops, stalls and trade in cash-crops in the main cities. This is because women became the bread-winners for families after the return of refugees displaced by the civil war in 1991. But in general, the large companies are male dominated.

Most of these entrepreneurs started from scratch after the end of the civil war in Somalia and the secession of Somaliland from greater Somalia in 1991. Great businesses like Daallo airlines and Dahabshiil are owned by self-made entrepreneurs who came to light in the early 1990s

Investors’ confidence

The peace that prevails in Somaliland has attracted many from the diaspora to invest in the country. Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, is currently enjoying a construction boom. This is mainly due to the confidence of the investors in the stability of the country.

The oil sector is the main area where huge investment has been met in the past few years. Places like the Odwayne oil block are among the most promising oil production locations in the country. Investment in fisheries is also booming. With the recent creation of Pontus Marine Limited, the prospects of producing processed fish is great. Pontus  started operations in December 2014 and aims to supply the local market as well as exporting fish to the Gulf states and landlocked Ethiopia.

I remember  in 2004 when ‘Sacaadadiin’ was a medium-sized Hargeisa-style store sliced between the Maaweel Hotel and Daallo Airlines. Today that business has turned into a huge marketing a multistory building stuffed with all kinds of merchandise from furniture to food and clothing. This is yet another business run by a self-made entrepreneur from Somaliland.

What all these men have in common is that they are successful entrepreneurs. They are some of the most successful entrepreneurs of our era. They have built their respective companies from small businesses into international powerhouses. They may have different styles, but they are all cut from the same cloth. They are the go-getters who don't take "no" for an answer and believe everything is possible. They are the role models for the younger generations of Somaliland.

Clearly, despite the challenges due to lack of international recognition encountered by Somaliland over the past 25 years, the country has a lot to offer. Given the peaceful environment and a highly-motivated population, the potential for Somaliland to outdo regional neighbours as an emerging business hub is clear. Enterpreneurs will lead Somaliland into the market economy and eventually make it the Singapore of the Horn of Africa.
I contributed this artice to the Anglo-Somali Society Journal , issue 61  - Spring 2017.
(Medeshi)
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