Telecom Business Makes Money, Brings Peace

Starting up a new enterprise in New York City is generally harder than in Silicon Valley where the venturing infrastructure is so well-developed. But how challenging is a startup in Somalia? There are little details like 50% of your employees may need to be security people. And how do you budget for paying off warlord extortion?

Nasra Malin:

I was one of six entrepreneurs who, in 1997, founded NationLink Telecom in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia… and the center of violence in our country. We were not sure if we would survive, first because there were three established telecom companies and, second, because the security challenge was tremendous.

But we invested in the business hoping to make profits and bring stability to our country.

NationLink has become a major telecom operator in Somalia, offering wireless and fixed-line services to 300,000 customers. It employs 1,500 people. With two other companies, we formed Global Internet Company, to provide Internet access.

Still, the fast-growing telecom industry in Somalia is fiercely competitive — competitors are hostile at times. Also, in a country with no strong central authority, we must protect our business. We have more than 600 security people, which is not the ideal solution. We know that someone somewhere will try to extort money if we need work done. We usually pay, because if we fight them, someone may get killed and, at the end of the day, the work may still not be done.

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