Somalia summit talks tech and apps, not guns and bombs

Tech entrepreneurs in Somalia are holding a first ever summit in battle-scarred Mogadishu, attracting hundreds to talk about business and innovation in a city more used to conflict and suffering.

The three-day event that began on Tuesday was conceived by a group of young Somalis to showcase the work of dozens of local companies.

"This is an opportunity to change negative impressions of Somalia, to give an image other than that of war, chaos and starvation," said Abdihakim Ainte, founder of Mogadishu's iRise Hub and the event's main organiser.

"Just like other technology summits in the world, it brings together technology entrepreneurs, students and government to discuss technology and economic development," he said.

Somalia collapsed into civil war in 1991 and since then has endured successive rounds of conflict involving clan-based militias, foreign armies and, latterly, Al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists the Al-Shabaab.

While a succession of internationally-backed governments have failed to stem corruption or bring peace, Somali entrepreneurship has persisted and economic activity thrived, despite the absence of a functioning state.

Tech innovation is just the latest example, and Ainte said he hoped it might "play a role in rebuilding the country and its economy."

Despite the ambitious talk, fear of Shabaab militants meant the summit was held at a well-guarded hall close to the sprawling, fortified Mogadishu airport "Green Zone" that is home to the UN and aid agencies, foreign embassies and an African Union military force.

Bringing tech home 

E-commerce startup Gulivery was among the companies showing their apps at the summit.

Deeq Mohamed, a 30-year-old British-Somali who returned home and established the delivery company with his wife, said there were plenty of opportunities in providing services that are already familiar in more peaceful, prosperous places.

Members of Somalia's far-flung diaspora are well-placed to seize the moment.

"When we moved from London to Hargeisa (in breakaway Somaliland) we were looking for a delivery service provider, but we could not find one. We were not the only ones, so we decided to start a delivery company," he said.

After expanding to Mogadishu, Gulivery's husband-and-wife team have their eyes on Djibouti and Ethiopia.

Gulivery's motorcycle couriers allow clients - mostly restaurants - to dodge the dangers of insecurity and bombings on Mogadishu's streets, as well as traffic, and expand their customer base.

* Sign up to News24's top Africa news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO THE HELLO AFRICA NEWSLETTER

FOLLOW News24 Africa on Twitter and Facebook

Mohamed said Gulivery has over 10 000 registered users and has made more than 9 000 deliveries since it began operating last year.

Exploiting gaps left by a state that fails to provide basic services, Ileys Energy sells solar and LED lights that make up for the inadequacy of grid electricity.

Abdiaziz Mohamed Adow, Ileys' 35-year-old Norwegian-Somali boss, said parts come from Norway but are assembled in Somalia.

"We are already sending supplies to most parts of the country and plan to move into other countries in East Africa," he said.

Abdikhaliq Ahmed, CEO of software company Yool Tech, which designs and hosts websites, welcomed the summit as a chance to showcase Somali knowhow and inspire others.

"We are eyeing a future where we provide technology-related services that people previously sought outside the country," he said.

"Summits like this one boost the moral of the youth so they will think about staying in their country and working in it."

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Who do you think should accept responsibility for the dire state of Eskom’s power system?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Eskom’s current management must take the fall
4% - 182 votes
Previous bosses from Zuma years are to blame
32% - 1666 votes
Mantashe and govt have been asleep at the wheel
31% - 1588 votes
There are many culprits; it’s a complex situation
33% - 1695 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.