Thursday, January 06, 2005

Telecoms revolution in lawless Somalia

See how telecoms are thriving in lawless Somalia. A Nov. 19, 2004, BBC report explains that even though Somalia is a country divided into hundreds of fiefdoms run by rival warlords, where security is a major concern, a host of mobile phone masts testifies to the telecommunications revolution which has taken place despite the absence of any functioning national government since 1991. Here are some snippets from the report:

There is no need to get a licence and there is no state-run monopoly which prevents new competitors being established. And there is no-one to demand any taxes, which is one reason why prices are so low.

The main airport and port were destroyed in the fighting but businessmen have built small airstrips and use natural harbours, so the phone companies are still able to import their equipment. Despite the absence of law and order and a functional court system, bills are paid and contracts are enforced by relying on Somalia's traditional clan system.

"The government used to have a monopoly but after the regime was toppled, we were free to set up our own business," says Abdullahi Mohammed Hussein, products and services manager of Telcom Somalia, which was set up in 1994 when Mogadishu was still a war-zone. "We saw a huge gap in the market, as all previous services had been destroyed. There was a massive demand."

While Telcom Somalia has some 25,000 mobile customers - and a similar number have land lines - you very rarely see anyone walking along the streets of Mogadishu chatting on their phone, in case this attracts the attention of a hungry gunman. The warlords realise that if they cause trouble for the phone companies, the phones will stop working again, which nobody wants. "We need good relations with all the faction leaders. We don't interfere with them and they don't interfere with us. They want political power and we leave them alone," he says.

New internet cafes are being set up across the city and the entire country. It takes just three days for a landline to be installed - compared with waiting-lists of many years in neighbouring Kenya, where there is a stable, democratic government. And once installed, local calls are free for a monthly fee of just $10. International calls cost 50 US cents a minute, while surfing the web is charged at 50 US cents an hour - "the cheapest rate in Africa" according to the manager of one internet cafe. "Even small, remote villages are connected to the internet, as long as they have a phone line.

E-mail is the cheapest way of staying in touch and many Somalis can read and write their own language, instead of relying on English or French, which restricts internet users to a smaller number of well educated people. And Somalia's telecoms revolution is far from over. Read full story.

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