There's more to Somalia than disaster management By ABDIRASHID DUALE | Friday, June 29  2012 at  12:24

There have been two major international conferences on Somalia during the past four months: one in London in February and another in Istanbul at the end of May.

These conferences came in the aftermath of one of the Horn of Africa’s worst famines in living memory – a crisis that was exacerbated by the difficulties faced by humanitarian workers in trying to deliver emergency assistance.

Somalis are not new to these hardships, or to international conferences that have sought to resolve their political problems.

As the CEO of Dahabshiil Group, which operates across Africa and the rest of the globe, I welcome and applaud the strenuous efforts made by the international community to address the region’s problems.

The London conference was a fine example of this goodwill and resolve, and was rightly seen by many as a milestone. The only concern that some of us in the Somali business community had was that trade and entrepreneurship – such cornerstones of Somali life – were not as high on the agenda as we had hoped.

Somalis have faced many challenges over the past two decades. There is a popular perception that it is a ‘failed state’. But as a growing number of experts are starting to point out, in many ways, the situation on the ground is at odds with that label.

Throughout their history, Somalis have shown themselves capable of remarkable innovation and enterprise – a cultural trait that has enabled surprising growth in a number of industries throughout these years of upheaval.

Livestock, which is currently booming, is still the mainstay of the Somali economy, but more modern, non-agrarian sectors such as telecoms and financial services, have also seen rapid expansion.

Dahabshiil has grown in 40 years from a small enterprise to become a major remittance company in the region, operating in 150 countries and serving both Somali and non-Somali customers.

In 2008, we invested in Somtel – a mobile telecoms firm. Two years later, we opened a bank, Dahabshiil Bank International, in Djibouti.

Money transfer

Dahabshiil Group as a whole encompasses money transfer, telecoms, banking and import and export.

Like the London event, the recent conference in Istanbul represented another major landmark. From the outset, the Turkish aid effort has recognised the importance of Somalia's economic potential – particularly in construction, real estate, mining and agriculture.

Humanitarian in focus for now, central to Turkey’s programme is a clear understanding that without physical infrastructure, future growth – and the ability to sustain it – will be limited.

After the significant improvements last year in the security situation of Mogadishu and the surrounding area, Turkish aid workers quickly set about the huge task of clear-up and reconstruction.

They have provided new hospitals and upgraded existing ones, set up schools, dug wells, and started work on the international airport. In March this year, Turkish Airlines began flying to Mogadishu.

In all, Turkish aid to Somalis over the past year – both private and government – now exceeds $350 million.

Dahabshiil has also been contributing to the development of the region by engaging in numerous projects to help the community. We donate millions every year to educational, health and other projects, including the provision of water and other lifeline services.

As a company, Dahabshiil does not favour one group over another. It seeks to serve people, no matter where they come from, whatever their backgrounds or opinions. The same can be said for our staff. We strive to work across all communities, Somali and non-Somali.

Turkey’s presence in Africa has been steadily increasing over the last decade, led by the Turkish business community. Ethiopia and Kenya have both attracted large-scale investment, with neighbouring economies including Rwanda and Uganda also set to benefit. As the CEO of a business that operates in these countries, I am hugely optimistic about their future, and I hope – as many others do – that more foreign investors will follow Turkey’s example.

Future investment

While practical aid efforts in and around Mogadishu are progressing, the way is being prepared for the development of common interests and opportunities for future investment and job creation throughout the Somali territories. I welcome these plans to expand the programme beyond Mogadishu – all Somalis have the same hopes for peace and development, and all face challenges.

To succeed, we must work together and in close partnership with the whole international community. There are many considerations. I spoke last month at a conference in Tanzania hosted by the African Development Bank, where leading figures from across the financial services industry, including Turkish, discussed ways in which increased financial inclusion can accelerate economic development.

These and other issues are of great importance, but first strong foundations must be laid. Infrastructure investment is what the Somali business community has been crying out for all along, because that is what will give Somalis the tools they need to stage a sustainable recovery of their own.

It does now seem that southern Somalia is nearing what has been described as a ‘tipping point’, beyond which there will be sufficient incentive to resist violence and to demand stability. It is my ardent hope that young Somalis, returning home with their families to security after all these years of turmoil, will feel that they have more to lose than previous generations have had, and will fight harder to keep it. 

Abdirashid Duale is CEO of Dahabshiil, a major remittance company in the eastern Africa region. For further information please visit www.dahabshiil.com.