Today from Hiiraan Online:  _
Internet usage thrives in Somalia

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Billboards advertising Internet services dot the thoroughfares in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. Businesses, schools, non-governmental organizations and public institutions are increasingly reliant on the Internet and this hasn’t boded too well with the insurgent group, al Shabaab.

Last week, the group issued a statement banning the use of mobile Internet services and gave service providers a 15-day ultimatum to disconnect the service. The Somali Federal Government was quick to assuage the fears of telecom companies and customers, urging them to ignore the threat and carry on.
Al Shabaab, known for its trademark sweeping statements has promised to enforce the ban once the deadline expires but this doesn’t seem to faze a lot of Somalis.

Liban Ahmed, who runs an Internet café that also doubles as a travel agency, says the lives of many Somalis and businesses now thrive on the Internet. Though the ban does not affect the Internet cafés, Ahmed says Internet usage is now part and parcel of the Somali lifestyle.

“The Internet is especially beneficial to the whole city and particularly for businesses. For us, in our work as a travel agency, we rely on the Internet one hundred percent. Our customers are not only those living in this area; they live all over the world. Some live in the US and in the UK as well. We book their ticket online and we send it to them via email. So this service is made possible by the Internet connection,” he says.

With Hormuud Telecom and Nationlink as the main service providers, Internet usage has become integral in the daily lives of many Somalis, making it difficult for them to comprehend life without it.

Deeq Ahmed Shire, a resident of Mogadishu and a mobile Internet user says he enjoys daily connection to the rest of the world and needs the Internet.

“We cannot do without Internet. It is very convenient and we have become used to it and it is what keeps us busy. We talk to our friends and we converse with the world. We are able to be in touch everywhere. So it is very beneficial for us. So companies like Hormuud have made access to this service easier,”

Such a move is aimed at instilling fear in the public sphere, analysts say, adding that Al Shabaab is getting increasingly paranoid; afraid that the Internet could be used to track them in their hideouts Abdi Aynte, the Executive Director of the Heritage Institute of Policy Studies (HIPS), a Somali think tank organization says the ban is not easily enforceable and explains some of the possible motives behind this action.

“I think there are three reasons Shabaab did this; number one is, it is part of their broader strategy to instill fear in the minds of the people. Number two, I think they are afraid to be exposed because mobile technology with high speed internet will allow citizens to transmit data into the rest of the world through social media or through the internet and what not, and the third and perhaps the most important one is that they are afraid that this technology will be used to track some of their top fighters as the operations of drones permeate in the areas that al Shabaab controls in South and Central Somalia,”

Al Shabaab’s ban extends to fiber optic technology. The fiber optic cable, touched shore in Somalia last year as part of the East African Submarine System. Once operational, this is expected to revitalize Internet access and usage as the country witnesses significant growth in the telecommunications sector.

As the deadline to the enforcement of the ban looms closer, it’s a wait and see approach for most Somalis. In the meantime, they’ll live their lives online thanks to the Internet.


Click here