Wednesday, May 17, 2006

BBC NEWS |Telecoms thriving in lawless Somalia

BBC NEWS | World | Africa | Telecoms thriving in lawless Somalia:

"By Joseph Winter
BBC News, Mogadishu

Rising from the ruins of the Mogadishu skyline are signs of one of Somalia's few success stories in the anarchy of recent years.

Mobile phone masts in Mogadishu
Mobile phone masts are among the few new structures in Mogadishu
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.

Three phone companies are engaged in fierce competition for both mobile and landline customers, while 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.

But how do you establish a phone company in a country where there is no government?

No monopoly

In some respects, it is actually easier.

There is no need to get a licence and there is no state-run monopoly which prevents new competitors being established.

Voices of Somali internet users

In pictures

And of course there is no-one to demand any taxes, which is one reason why prices are so low.

'The government post and telecoms company 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.'

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, Mr Abdullahi says."

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