In Somalia, new telecommunication technologies play important role

By Mahmoud Mohamed in Mogadishu

April 19, 2012

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Despite the absence of central government institutions and the state of chaos for much of the past 20 years, the telecommunications sector in Somalia has continued to grow and deliver services to Somalis utilising modern technology.

  • Somalis browse the Internet at a local cyber café in Mogadishu. [Mahmoud Mohamed/Sabahi]

    Somalis browse the Internet at a local cyber café in Mogadishu. [Mahmoud Mohamed/Sabahi]

  • A customer shops at an electronics store in Mogadishu. [Mahmoud Mohamed/Sabahi]

    A customer shops at an electronics store in Mogadishu. [Mahmoud Mohamed/Sabahi]

Industry experts told Sabahi that private companies have filled the vacuum left by government institutions that collapsed in 1991, providing services such as landline telephones and the Internet.

Telecommunications companies in Somalia have been able to provide some telephone services at a relatively low cost, according to NationLink Commercial Director Abdullahi Ali Amir.

NationLink -- one of three telecommunications companies operating in southern Somalia -- provides landlines, mobile telephone and money transfer services. The company competes with Hormuud and Telecom Somalia in the Mogadishu market.

Compensating for Somalia's absent banking infrastructure

The lack of a stable government and a banking system have made it difficult for Somalis to make simple financial transactions, such as paying for goods and services. As a result, telecommunications companies crossed into the financial sector to provide new services that respond to the problematic circulation of legal tender and poor security in the country.

Last year, NationLink launched E-MAAL and Hormuud launched EV Plus. Both services allow subscribers to transfer money via text messages to other mobile phone subscribers within the network.

NationLink Executive Director Abdulazziz Ahmed told Sabahi that the free services provide users an easy, safe and reliable alternative way to transact.

Both companies require subscribers to deposit US currency into a user's mobile account. Funds are then made available and can be transferred at any time using a pin code.

Using mobile phones "makes it possible to settle all kinds of bills, such as for electricity, water, rent and various purchases. It provides the utmost level of security when sending money through a fast and secure way," Ahmed said.

In E-MAAL, "e" stands for electronic and "maal" means money or wealth in Somali. The service is currently available in central and southern Somalia, and Ahmed said NationLink "plans to expand our services to cover the entire country to meet people's demands".

Mohamud Abdullahi, an economics professor at Mogadishu University, said the launch of the mobile-transfer service is "the first of its kind in Somalia", a sign of the advancements the country has made in the technology sector.

Said Abdulrashid, 36, a Mogadishu business owner who uses the mobile-transfer service, told Sabahi the new technology provides added security and saves lives. "In the past, people would put themselves in harm's way as they came across robbers and militias while carrying money. This service, however, is secure and saves lives and money," he said.

Internet in Somalia

Despite the instability, private companies have also been able to bring Somalia online.

"There are no precise statistics when it comes to the exact number of Internet users in Somalia," said Abdisalam Mohammed, marketing director for Global Internet Company, known locally as Global. He said estimates show that no more than 1.2% of the population has access to the Internet in Somalia.

Global is one of the largest Internet providers in Somalia operating in the central and southern parts of the country. Other providers such as Unitel and Orbit only operate in Mogadishu.

Mohammed said Internet penetration is relatively low compared with other countries in the region because most Somalis are unable to afford the cost of the service.

In Mogadishu, Internet services can range between $30 and $500 per month, depending on the type and speed of connection.

Mohamed said companies in Somalia use Satellite Internet Access to provide service since fibre optics are not yet available.

Technology analysts told Sabahi that fibre optics could bring faster and more reliable service to Somalia, while still making it more affordable.

Mohammed Sheikh Aden, who teaches information technology at various universities in Mogadishu, said that bringing fibre optics to Somalia would attract more investors in the sector, help increase competition and decrease costs for end users.

"Internet costs will no doubt decrease, which ultimately increases the number of Internet users in Somalia in the future," he said.

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Reader's Comments

  • Abduaziz
    June 9, 2012 @ 09:22:30PM

    Internet and communication have been known to be the best boost for any economy and the economy of Somalia needs this to be able to rise from the ashes of decade of civil war. The internet in itself will connect Somalia to the entire world. The communication will bring in more investors who can invest in different sectors like mobile phone and electronics departments. When investors come in it will be more revenue to the Somali government and creation of employment opportunity. The development if internet and communication in Somalia will enable the Somali government and her people to connect to the world and transact regional and international business. The business will greatly boost the economy of the country and at the same time expose it to the world.

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