I don’t imagine many people would think that lawless and war-torn Somalia could ever be used as a shining example of telecommunications, but that’s just what it is.
Since the war of the warlords in 1991 the country has had no government. All infrastructure was demolished; there is no banking system; no national telecoms operator; no court system; and nobody pays taxes.
Yet the country has a thriving telecoms business. The national operator, Telecom Somalia, collapsed but, amazingly, their employees continued to work, and set up a de facto privatised company in 1994. Two other mobile operators launched their services in competition and all three are flourishing beyond belief.
But then, look at this. These companies voluntarily agreed to introduce operational separation and combined to set up a separate infrastructure that is used by all three of them.
Despite the lack of a banking and court system people pay their bills, and even the war lords don’t interfere as they all have a vested interest in good telecoms. The thousand-year-old Hawala money transfer system is used to pay bills and for overseas investment.
However, walking around with a mobile phone in Mogadishu would be asking for trouble, since individual gunmen, eager to get such a device, could confiscate it. And Internet security is basically focused around the front door of the Internet café, where an armed guard keeps control.
And there is no such thing as old-world telco services. Customers within a radius of 1.5Km of the capital, Mogadishu, receive 150Mb/s broadband services via a long-reach Ethernet connection. Elsewhere 11Mb/s is available.
Local calls over the networks are free for a monthly access fee of $10; a landline is installed within days.
Even old connections to the villages have been repaired, and Internet is now available throughout the country.
And what else do the people in Somalia want? They want to pay taxes. They are sick and tired of not having a government to look after national security, create the right environment for courts and bank systems and so on.
I would like to acknowledge the BBC story by Joseph Winter which prompted me to write this article.
See also: Africa
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