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Somaliland Private Enterprises Deserve To Become A Role Model For All!
The following story is true. It is based on my own experience during my visits of East Africa. Without bias, I had compiled this short story during my vacations in the:
Trust me, in putting together my story I have in no way have any intention to discredit any nation in the Region. I have no intention to favor anyone either. There is no bias in my story whatsoever. Rather, this short report is based on my observations of how things are in that part of the world. And how specifically businesses in the Region perform! And certainly, I am aware that many things may have changed since then in any of the countries concerned, because in today’s world, complete transformations can happen within months if not days! And this report, I hope will be seen only as a positive criticism of the prevailing things there so that the Horn Of Africa Region in question improves its status so that it may claim its rightful place in this progressive global village!
Back in September 2002, I had to go on my yearly vacation and for many reasons, I had selected Kenya. This was because before my visit there, I had heard many beautiful stories of that country. I had for instance read or heard about the safari, the Serengeti and the unique sight of ice capped Kilimanjaro. I had also heard how many things in that area exist in their originalities and especially in the countryside. I had of course heard how wildlife roams in that country in all its kinds and multitudes. And hence I had always thought that Kenya was prosperous when it comes to the tourism industry. And I had also wanted to buy some of the famous African souvenirs for my great African American friend in the USA who often cries whenever he hears about incredible Africa! In fact, to him, every thing remarkable is African! Every thing original is African! And everything great is African! And could surely be so, provided Africans only understand it that way!
And not surprisingly, therefore, I had before even bought beautiful documentaries and artifacts from Kenya for my kids who are born and live in the USA because I wanted them to have African originality in their blood. I wanted them to see Africa live. I wanted them to know Africa has a rich history. I wanted them to know that life in Africa is not as primitive as the Western media always portray it. I wanted them to know that Africans of course do things in their own way and that does not necessarily mean primitiveness! And I had in fact even bought and watched “The Lion King” documentary thousand times joyously singing with my kids “…..hakuna matata…, don’t you worry!...hakuna matata, hakuna matata…., Don’t you worry, It is a problem free world.... Don’t you worry!...hakuna matata …hakuna matata…, it is a problem free world… don’t you worry!”
It is a pity however that when I came to Kenyatta International Airport I was extremely disappointed. I could not believe my eyes when I saw how bureaucratic the government there was. And despite a great hand from my UN employee friend, it took us a heck of time and effort to get visa for myself even though I am American… American passports are the easiest to get you Kenyan entry visas. Do not get me wrong, but it looked as if the immigration personnel there expected me do this or that but for what? May be…In fact few employees seemed to be willing to do their jobs!
The irony is that women and men with degrees were everywhere without jobs, some selling only couple bags of fruits under fifth world narrow corridors! But certainly, I was extremely impressed how much advanced the country was when it comes to education. And I was amazed how people still loved their country despite all those conspicuously economic hardships that they seemed to be enduring!
Then, a few days later, on my way back to United Arab Emirates where I lived, I went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. But since it was my first visit of Addis, I wanted to stay there for two weeks too. And as soon as I collected my visa, I took a bus to Ghion Hotel at the heart of the city.
For unknown reasons, I had always had great positive imaginations about Addis Ababa. I had of course read about the rich history of Ethiopia. I had of course known how Ethiopia was ruled by dynasties of kings and queens. And I had always heard how civilized Ethiopians were for centuries. I had even, with Ethiopian artists, always loved to sing classical Ethiopian songs like I would know or understand. In fact I do still remember memorize and sing the melodic songs often broadcast from Addis Ababa radio without knowing what they meant. I can even recall days in my childhood when I would sing …ama lala leela… ama lala leela without knowing even today what they mean. And it had always appealed to me to speak Amharic language and words like “Ishi gata… Or yes, I am at your services or disposal, Your Royalty, or Your Greatness!” always sounded lovely, royal and classical to me!
With all those great memories in the back of my mind, one day I rented a taxi to give me a tour of Addis Ababa. However, I was disappointed when I saw how much underdeveloped Addis was. I could not believe that “Supper Power Ethiopia” was no better than civil-war-emerging Somaliland when it comes to development and standard of living. I could hardly believe that Addis was no better than Kenya when it comes to bureaucracy. And despite all its natural wealth, I could hardly believe that Addis was not doing well when it comes to education, health and sanitation…the basic primary indicators of any nation’s development!
But I was told that I could have selected the historic sites like the birth place of Ethiopian dynasties. I could have otherwise selected Harar, the city with thousand mosques; that was recently marked as a UN heritage site. And had I done so, I could have been in the center of Islamic civilization in Ethiopia where many of the grand muftis of East Africa including many from my birth place in the Awdal Region, Somaliland had their religious schooling…Islamic jurisprudence and the Oneness of the Lord of all the worlds!
However, in one of the evenings when I tried to reach my family in the USA, I found that telecommunications was okay. In fact that industry was fully functional. But it would cost me a fortune even just to say “hello my lovely family, I just called to say I love you and I mean it from the bottom of my heart!” And another industry that I saw was highly effective and promising was the Ethiopian airline fleet that I believe can do a superb service similar to those of international airlines!
Two years later, back in 2004, I went to Mombassa, Kenya to participate in a United Nations Economic Commission for Africa conference. Based on my earlier experience there, I was certainly apprehensive expecting rough treatment by the immigration officers. However, I was surprised how professional they had become in two year’s time! And with respect, I was welcomed to the country even though there was no local or UN official hosting me at Kenyatta International Airport this time. And certainly the immigration officer’s words “… welcome to this country brother!” still ring in my ears! “
But while in the conference in Mombassa, I had to make a call to my family in the USA. So, I asked hotel personnel “what do I need to do to call my family in the USA?” Of course as is always the case, hotel personnel were courteous and they advised me to go to the Central Post office to buy a “cheaper calling card” and so, I did!
Sadly enough however, application of the rule of law in Africa trickles in the countrywide and possibly eventually dies. Therefore, the government owned Central Post office in Mombassa had most of its booth lines dead. But when I finally found a live one, a recording said “You have no balance in your calling card, please hang up and recharge your card” and this was despite putting $US10 in that same card but never hearing even one clear word from my family!
However, when I came to Nairobi, I found small, yet effective private telephone booths scattered all over the city and they were relatively cheap too. Call me lucky, I was certainly relieved to have finally heard from my family! “What a difference a couple of years makes” I said to myself! “What a difference, good governance makes..!” I kept repeating “and President Kibaki must be already loved a lot and should be re-elected” I thought!
But now, rumor has it that his national ratings have since plummeted. And he may never be re-elected. But considering how much things got better in Kenya since he got elected, I am confused as to what might have happened. Is it possible that President Kibaki himself became corrupt? I certainly do not hope so! Or is it possible that former corrupt leaders got angry and are out there bent to destroy him? I certainly do not hope so too! But assuming it is so, this is what a misused power can do to a whole nation or to an honest leader!
Again, in 2005, I took my yearly vacation to Horn of Africa. This time, I selected Djibouti and Somaliland. And when I landed at Djibouti airport, I was lucky that a great Djiboutian friend official welcomed me. And despite his tight work schedule… Dr. Saeed works on two jobs, he devoted all evenings to take me to everywhere in the city. In addition, he gave me a car with driver who took me to any where in the city during the days.
Naturally, I did not want Dr. Saeed to devote all his time to me. So, on the third night I told him, “I would like to spend the rest of my vacation in Somaliland and I have to leave tomorrow!”
So, the next morning, his driver came to my hotel and gave me a final tour of Djibouti and eventually took me to the Telecommunications office there as I wanted to make a call and ask some one in Hargeysa, Somaliland to get me from Egal International airport!
The national telecommunications office Dr. Saeed’s driver took me was in a grand Chateau type of building. It was marvelously designed. It looked superb…the French style building typically seen in Paris. It would in fact remind one of royalty and of splendor. And I have to confess that it was the type of a building rarely seen in poor topical Africa!
Unfortunately, buildings do not do the work. It is people with their modern technology who should do it! And poor Africa, the employees in that great building did not even bother to greet me let alone serve me so that I could make the call that I did badly need! And believe me it took me a heck of a time and effort to get one lady to finally come to the window and say: “Maxaad doonaysaa or what do you want?” And my answer was of course: “Walaal inaan Hargeysa la hadlaan doonayaa… or sister I want to call Hargeysa! She opened a line for me and strangely, the cost of the call was cheap and very okay and so was the technology used!
But in Djibouti, one thing that certainly impressed me was that, though in their initial stages, there were a lot of developments going on in the city and most of them, I was told were investments from Port World, Dubai! I hope that those have already made a lot of difference since!
Just an hour later, I was in Egal International Airport in the deliberately isolated Left To Itself Alone Republic of Somaliland.
At Egal International Airport, I had no worries when it comes to getting visas because I am originally from there. And it seemed that all Hargeysa residents were there probably coming to welcome relatives many of whom live and work overseas. And certainly remittances of overseas Somalilanders are the backbone of the whole economy of the nation!
At 7 pm local time, my friend took me to the city and finally to one of the telecommunications companies in Hargeysa so that I could call USA where my family lives. And without exaggeration, one of many young professionally dressed boys in blue jeans, white short sleeve shirt and a black tie rushed to greet me! “Hello adeer or uncle, may I help you?”
And having worked in the USA in the Customer Service Industry myself before, I could hardly believe I had the comfort of modern customer service at my disposal to enjoy. And even more surprisingly the call was cheaper… the cheapest in fact in the Horn of Africa. So, I was so happy in fact that I had to offer a tip to that young boy who respectfully declined possibly because his company does not allow him!
Admittedly, the building was modest but everything else in the office was superb. The counters were fully furnished with all modern telecommunication amenities. I could see the wonders of modern technology on the screens at the counter. And I could even see it on the telephone display in my private little booth. I could see digital electronic telecommunications equipment in the whole building as they presumably transmitted information worldwide! And I could even watch the cost of my call on the panel right in front of my eyes as its ticked time against the corresponding cost!
In addition, what was even more amazing was that Somaliland money exchangers are out by the streets. And women who make the bulk of money exchangers have the dollar, the Euro, the Ethiopian Bir and the Somaliland shilling stacked in wooden boxes that are just under umbrellas! And even more amazingly, those women, later in the evening, I was told, carry their money on wheel barrows home with no one ever bothering let alone robbing them! Now, tell me where in the world it is this good?
Finally, of course, there are too many wonders in Left To Itself Alone Somaliland, but one more thing that leaves a lasting impression in me is Shaba…. a private water utility company in Borama. Shaba came to existence in late 2003 and to date had proved to be a company of international caliber thanks to its world standard management! I am told that Borama is the only city in the country where one does not worry about clean water supply! And I am also told that despite company’s massive infrastructure investments, its shareholders are already enjoying great dividends!
This is a strange world because despite a functioning democratically elected government in poor Somaliland, despite unbelievable peace and tranquility in the country and despite a free impressive enterprising and entrepreneurship, no nation in this universe recognizes poor Somaliland! And sadly all international financial institutions have to date completely closed their doors to this Left to Itself Alone Country!
A major worrisome practice that has the potential to destroy poor Somaliland however is tribalism. It is sadly the measuring rod of everything. If one gets something, it is because of his/her clan. If one sacrifices for poor Somaliland it is because he does so for his/her clan. If one gets a job in the government or in other institutions one gets it because he/she is from this or from that clan. And in fact, all the whole talk of the towns is generally about tribalism. It is the favorite subject during Qat chewing sessions. It is the common language used when addressing someone. It is the favorite subject of newspapers. It is the favorite topic for TV shows. And it is certainly the greatest un-moderated debate subject that is continuously posted in the front pages of most Somalilanders owned websites that mushroom in the worldwide web!
The irony is that, it is the intellectuals who are doing most of the damage! It is the website owners many of who knowingly and unknowingly propagate it! And If Left To Itself Alone Poor Somaliland falls, it will do so, because of this monkey business!