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Internet investment will help Somalia prosper

Earlier this year, African carrier's carrier WIOCC asked a panel of experts - among them Dalkom Somalia CEO Mohamed Ahmed Jama - how they would invest $100 million in African ICT. This week, in the run-up to AfricaCom, Developing Telecoms will republish their opinions.

In considering the question, I make no apologies for firmly ring-fencing my investment in Somalia, rather than considering the whole African continent. Somalia has one of the most competitive telecoms markets in Africa, with some of the lowest international call rates on the continent.

However, in contrast with the country’s thriving telecoms sector, access to the internet is very limited – in 2000, Somalia was one of the last countries in Africa to get connected. With speed and quality severely constrained and costs high (Somalia currently relies entirely on satellite for its international connectivity) internet penetration rates are low, with only an estimated 1.3% of the 10-million population having any access.

As we have seen in other African countries over the past few years, access to affordable, high-speed, international connectivity has a significant impact on economic, political and social development, and improvements happen relatively quickly. Establishing infrastructure in Somalia to enable businesses and individuals to benefit from affordable, high-performance broadband services would be my prime focus for any investment.

The capital city, Mogadishu, is on track to see the arrival of international submarine connectivity for the first time later this year. From here our metropolitan area network will deliver local connectivity within Mogadishu. This initiative will hugely benefit the growing number of international organisations and local business entrepreneurs, as well as the people of Somalia. I expect it to drive lower cost internet and broadband, to boost mobile penetration from its current 60% and to dramatically increase the development and use of internet-based services and applications – with all the associated benefits to my country and the international companies operating there.

The next challenge will be to extend terrestrial fibre-optic connectivity throughout the country to alleviate dependence on satellite technology and low-capacity microwave links in more remote regions. From our country’s starting point, we have the chance to learn from the mistakes of others, looking beyond the short-term to implement a high-quality national backbone network. There is a real opportunity to plan and implement a strategic national telecommunications platform that will support and enable Somalia’s re-emergence into the global community.

Things are beginning to change in my country. Local businesses are optimistic about the future and members of the Somali diaspora and international organisations are starting to return and invest. The telecoms sector has been a real success story so far and, with the right regulatory climate and level of investment, it will have a vital part to play in the future of Somalia.

Mohamed Ahmed Jama is the Chief Executive Officer of Dalkom Somalia.