By Paul Ndiho
Somalia has endured a mountain of political and economic strife and caution is the key word if you are looking to invest in a start-up. But the negative image of doing business in the east Africa nation is changing. New ventures are sprouting up daily– including a new taxi service in the country’s capital.
A new organized taxi company in Mogadishu is generating a buzz. The company is revamping the old transportation sector on roads that were once considered the most dangerous in the world. These once deserted streets are now bustling with traffic as the country rebuilds its devastated economy after nearly two decades of civil war.
The Mogadishu taxi company has been operating for three months and it’s the first taxi service to bring the yellow cabs to the city, after the Islamist militant group Al Shabaab was driven out by a military offensive led by a U.N.-backed African union peace keeping force.
Suleiman Mohamed Daras and his partners introduced the branded “yellow and blue” taxis and charge their clients one U.S. Dollar per kilometer.
“We started with 25 cars and we have been working for three months. Taxis in Mogadishu used to charge a lot of money. For example, when we pick a passenger from Bakara market and take them to the airport, we charge them between six and seven dollars whereas they used to pay up to 30 dollars.”
Clients call into the station on their mobile phones and a taxi is dispatched to their location. The taxis not only ease the crowded streets, but they also add color to the city. The cab service is also source of employment for the country’s young people.
Wiping the dust off his taxi, Abdirizaq Mohamed, is a former member of one of the many militias groups that once controlled parts of Mogadishu. He traded-in his weapons for new wheels.
“We all come from different backgrounds. Some have come from different countries and they used to be taxi drivers there. Now, they’ve come back to practice their skills here. This company has enabled many youth who were not doing much to engage in gainful employment. If all the youth were employed, there wouldn’t be problems in this country.”
A majority of the drivers at the Mogadishu taxi company are young men who either own the cars or are renting them on a daily basis. They pay the company 25 U.S. Dollars per day and whatever they make on top of that is theirs to keep.
On a slow day, Abdirizaq makes close to 70 U.S. Dollars and can now provide for his family.
Across the city, other taxi companies can now be seen working the streets, funded mostly by money from the diaspora.
Suleiman and his partners, however, say they are not threatened and believe competition is good for their business.
“Competition is crucial for any business. We welcome all other alternative ideas. They are our colleagues and they have affirmed our business models and we welcome this. We don’t see it as a challenge.”
As Somalia rebuilds, only just 10 percent of its roads are paved, while 95 percent of the country’s 10 million people have no electricity. Mushrooming construction sites, solar-powered street lamps and beach front cafes point to a slight rebound, albeit one largely confined to the city.
“When we look at Somalia now, i feel that the future looks good. Personally, I’m very optimistic.”
Despite Somalia’s improving business developments, risks remain high. Al shabaab’s suicide bombers have been able to attack sites in Mogadishu with alarming ease and a-u peacekeepers still patrol the streets in armored vehicles.