Connectivity has become something of a buzz word in Puntland State, Somalia. For a strategically located region the importance of improving infrastructure along with land, sea and air corridors has become a national priority. Puntland’s President Abdiweli Ali Gas is leading the campaign, one readily supported by diverse stakeholders ranging from the Public Sector, the Puntland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, members of the Diaspora as well as potential foreign investors. With such unanimity it is heartening to see that funders are beginning to recognise that the dynamic is changing. The false hopes and regional insecurity of the past are beginning to dissipate and a grounded optimism is finally becoming apparent. For those in the know there is a realisation that the hard work is about to begin.
Those eager to gain an insight into the spirit of transformation would do well to look closely at what is happening with regards to the development of the airports at Garowe and Bossaso. After years of neglect by the Federal Government, the airports are finally about to be given a new lease of life with the construction of modern runways, proper perimeter fencing and security measures and many of the attendant facilities that will enable the respective airports to raise their game. Arab and Italian funders along with the engineering and construction expertise of the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) will ensure Puntland State finally acquires the type of airport facilities that it has long desired. Such an enterprise is highly complex and has required protracted negotiations, ones that have seen the likes of Minister Hassan Haji Said Hassan (Minister of Civil Aviation and Airports) along with Director General Capt. Amin Abdullah Haji Khair (Ministry of Civil Aviation and Airports) and their staff working tirelessly to ensure things move forward in a positive and purposeful manner. Whilst more work remains to be done, the signs are encouraging and now there is growing anticipation of the benefits that will follow the planned improvements. Already there is a realisation that there is likely to be more frequent flights, improved regional connectivity, the ability to land larger aircraft and increased competition. Locals and Diaspora alike are excited by what is about to take place and are not alone in recognising that ticket prices are set to fall and that visitor numbers and commercial traffic set to increase markedly. Little wonder then that there is already anecdotal evidence of increased interest in Puntland from potential investors.
All of this bodes well, but presents the people of Puntland State with a series of challenges. Airports and ports are all very well, but to ensure that they operate and function effectively there needs to be a whole raft of attendant backup services, facilities and personnel. Engineers, technical support crews and ancillary staff will be essential. Visitors and foreign investors will expect professionalism as standard and will make ready comparisons with the experience they receive elsewhere. Effective training, communication and customer care will be paramount if Puntland State is to present its best face to the world. Already there are signs that local hotels recognise that they may need to improve existing facilities to ensure that they can compete with the arrival of international hotel chains. With more traffic comes the likelihood of increased competition and in some sectors this will be stiff. Thankfully various Ministries have begun to wake up to the enormity of the task that lies ahead and the very real developmental opportunities Puntland’s gateway status can present. For all the challenges, there is no need to reinvent the wheel Puntland can learn from successful development models elsewhere, the best fit being that of Rwanda. Like Somalia, Rwanda has had an image problem, yet in the last two decades has managed to transform itself into the one of the leading business and investment destinations in Africa. At the heart of Rwanda’s success has been a national vision, one based on the desire to move the country forward thanks to national reliance rather than reliance on aid and handouts. The small central African country, whilst not blessed with Puntland’s coastline and extraordinary rich marine life has set about harnessing what it believes to be it greatest resource – namely its people. National literacy has been made a priority as has literacy in English and Information Technology. With improved male and female literacy has come marked improvements in health and substantial process in the field of democratisation. Olympian efforts have been made to ensure that appointments and promotions are made on merit and that both the public and private sector have a zero tolerance to corruption. Rwanda’s co-ordinated approach to registering businesses means that it is currently one of the easiest and most efficient places to register and establish a business anywhere in the world. Image at every level has been deemed essential, with a concerted effort being made to ensure its foreign legations appoint the brightest staff regardless of age, gender or clan heritage. One of the most obvious manifestations of care over the country’s image has been in regards to hygiene and the public realm with a nationwide blitz on discarded plastic bottles and bags proving a veritable triumph. Effective leadership, motivated and accessible staff and national empowerment have driven Rwanda forward to such an extent that progress and increasing prosperity look assured. With similar zeal there is no reason why Puntland State cannot do the same.
Whilst there is good reason for grounded optimism, no one should be under any illusion of the enormity of the task that lies ahead. New airports are all very well, but they alone cannot bring about the development and equity Puntland State and the Somali peoples desire. Forward momentum is always a work in progress and even the most passionate Puntlanders and friends of Puntland recognise that much more needs to be done. In order for Puntland to soar there needs to be a concerted desire to do better, for complacency is the seedbed of disappointment. Areas that will help drive Puntland forward include:
1) State wide blended energy solutions (especially including solar and wind power)
2) Wireless mess technology across all urban centres
3) A centre of frugal innovation
4) A data and statistics office
5) Regional entrepreneurship centres and workshops
6) Increased awareness of the value of time and motion studies
7) Introduction of statutory Health & Safety Standards
8) Recognition and celebration of regional excellence
9) Greater emphasis on meaningful training and capacity building
10) A concerted effort to articulate investment opportunities internationally
Promise and potential are one thing, actually realising it is quite another matter. The fact is that things are beginning to move in the right direction, now it is down to Puntland State to capitalise on growing goodwill and prove that it has the ability and will to soar and ascend new heights.