Hon. Ahmed Omar Gagale–MP, Minister of State, Post and Telecommunication-Somalia
The Minister is in Chicago to meet with the World Trade Center Illinois and businesses in Chicagoland area. He is here to discuss the state of business in the Transitional Government in Somalia and what steps they are taking to bolster their free market economy.
More specifically he is looking to Chicago as a place to find businesses whose exports could be the inputs that help rebuild infrastructure. Mr. Gagale is interested in showing light on the current economic and political situation in Somalia.
Check out the interview here.
MM: With which businesses have you met here in Chicago/Illinois? How did those meetings go?
AG: W ith the support of the WTC, we have made lots of connections. We want to meet with mobile telecommunications companies. The meetings went well. We also want to develop other areas. We talk about fisheries. Somalia is a very rich country, but untouched & undeveloped. We’re looking for development. We’re interested in gateways. We are trying to boost small companies who are good risk takers, doing good investments with technical know-how. We are ahead of most African nations including South Africa in telecommunications. We have a lot of success in these systems. We have the longest shore in Africa. We have oil. We need pioneers, entrepreneurs, yuppies. We have minerals to be developed that we haven’t touched yet.
MM: What is the state of telecommunications/wireless(600K/9.5M)/internet(>100K) connectivity in Somalia?
AG: As I mentioned, we are better than most African countries/nations. We are leading. Those who are in the bush, they have wireless mobile phones. We talk a lot overseas. We have lot of communications. We spend a lot of money on wireless communications.
MM: Are there advantages to basing telecom companies in Somalia if Somali companies are able to offer the lowest international call rates on the continent?
AG: We call overseas all the time. We have the best overseas telecommunications. That is why we are looking for other investors to encourage competition. We are interested in taxation. It’s interesting to have the gateways for the controls to do a lot of the work. There are 6-8 companies competing so prices are cheaper than in the States.
MM: How have Somalia's remittance/money transfer companies grown?
AG: The banking system is yet to be developed. It’s private companies that are doing the banking. You can give money in Chicago today & it will show up in Somalia in an hour via the internet. The opportunity lies in developing your own ways. We’re building roads, buildings, schools, universities. We have to start from 0.
MM: How is the Somali government leveraging resources in uranium and largely unexploited reserves of iron ore, tin, gypsum, bauxite, copper, salt, natural gas, likely oil reserves to bolster the free market economy?
AG: We’re looking for investors, people who become shareholders with us, doing the work, people with know how, mining companies & developers.
MM: With GDP/per capita of $600, how can Somalis afford to buy American or other imported goods?
AG: What we are looking at are reciprocal investments. What we mean is when we import, you must export. We will exchange goods. We have a lot of expats working here in the US who send us money from all over the world, who are investors too.
MM: How are personal risks being mitigated so that Americans can feel safe to do business in Somalia?
AG: There are a lot of Americans who are really smart. They know how to contact people. There are a lot of local partners who protect them & put their lives on the line. Somalis are bright & proud. They defend anyone who comes to their home. They would rather die than be hung. The government is willing to support anything. But unemployment is very high.
MM: How has the government regulated Somalia's informal economy?
AG: We’re trying to reduce the black market as much as we can. We’re trying to look for coast guards ships. There is a lot in that area. We are looking at exchanging seafood for that.
MM: How much does Somalia export outside of Africa?
AG: Somalia is at the center/the heart of Africa. We have the greatest exporters. This is our specialty. We export to Kenya. We have the best buildings. We import building materials from China. In order to balance competitors, we like to bring Americans on board to give them access to Somali markets. We’re looking for partners. We ship to the Middle East.
MM: How are you developing a trade infrastructure with few paved roads & transportation links?
AG: We have all of this stuff in a small way. There will be lots of competition through the World Bank. Sometimes we get donations. Whoever is interested in this type of work can go to USAID. We encourage those who contact us to contact them. There are a lot of funds available for Somalia.
MM: How can Somalia transition from an agricultural (65-70%) economy to an industrial/services oriented economy with few skilled laborers (3.7M) & (literacy 38%)?
AG: W e are trying to bring the brains back to Somalia. There has been a lot of brain drainage. We are talking to those people to bring them back home. We convinced some in Milwaukee to return to Somalia. We’ve also been to MN, VA, & NY.
MM: How do you rectify the official Somali shilling exchange rate (1500/$)with the unofficial black market rate(23,000/$)?
AG: We talk about this with different economists with lots of suggestions. We need to create/print new money & clean out the old money. We’re trying to do that so that it will be stable to create a stable economy. There is a ministry of treasury, but they (& economic ministry) are all in one. They are trying to reduce the government spending money.
MM: The CIA world factbook states "businesses print their own money, so inflation rates cannot be easily determined" Where are the checks & balances in the financial system?
AG: These are correct. As soon as we came to power, we instituted change. We caught many corrupt people printing money.
MM: When will the transitional government be replaced by a permanent government?
AG: We are looking forward to elections. 1 st we bring people together. We are institution-building, based on law & order. Then we want to call free elections. Wherever we select will be the capital. We think in Aug of 2009. There will not be any transition. We are trying to make an election possible. We have to do a census. There are a lot of things we have to do.
MM: The government appears to be deeply involved in business in Somalia. How is this good for business?
AG: A lot of people misunderstood government involvement in business. Many people are discouraged by their investments. We need to encourage them.
MM: Anything else?:
AG: I encourage all Midwesterners to come to Somalia in the area of fisheries & tourists because we have the longest shore. We will give them land & exemptions in taxation for anyone developing the shore. We are willing to cooperate. We are encouraging business. We need brave pioneers. We will give them lots of good chances. They will not regret it.
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