It is one of those curious things about entrepreneurs that they have the ability to see potential where others see nothing. When it comes to countries and regions that have passed through periods of conflict rather than seeing nothing, many see worse than nothing, they see RISK, risk screaming at them in big bold red letters. Risk is a part of every day life and it is something we consciously or sub-consciously assess on a daily basis. In reality some of our fears are rational, others exaggerated, whilst others are based on insufficient factual evidence and can often appear totally irrational. In truth, sometimes we need to recalibrate and reappraise, and in so doing we may well find ourselves seeing things differently. In my experience business and commerce are just as susceptible to preconceptions and misconceptions as any one. Those familiar with the notion of confirmation bias will appreciate that the world of business is filled with irrational decisions and decision makers. Whilst some people are quite content to buy into the status quo, there are those willing to venture forth and see whether what they are being told bears up to scrutiny. Such enterprising souls have much to teach us all.
Richard D. Mbogga, CEO – Meden International Ltd (www.medensystems.com) is one of those individuals who takes pride in seeing things differently. As someone who heads up an Intelligent Traffic Lighting Systems company he appreciates the importance of seeking new markets and winning contracts. Travel is integral to his business, as for him it is all about discovering the true situation on the ground. He is a no nonsense sought of guy, the type of fellow who has little time for standing on ceremony, as a CEO he has no problem with rolling up his sleeves and ensuring a job is done, done well, on time and on budget. So it came of little surprise to discover that this enterprising individual was prepared to travel from London to Puntland State, Somalia a couple of weeks ago to oversee the installation of state of the art solar powered traffic lights. For Mbogga here was an opportunity to win business, see the situation for himself and eye up future opportunities. What is more from what he observed he is clear that Puntland State, Somalia has in traffic light parlance moved from red to amber and is showing signs of considerable promise.
Puntland State has much to be proud of, an increasing number of commentators and Horn of Africa specialists see Puntland as the template of how a stable Somalia could be. The Presidential election 8th January 2014 not only saw a trouble free election in Puntland, but also an incredibly smooth transition free from acrimony or clan tension. Since then President Abdiweli Ali Gas, the 5th President of Puntland State, has been a man on a mission, intent on ensuring that various ministries are headed up by individuals of calibre. Puntland’s President has made clear that if the region is to move forward infrastructure development and national capacity building is the key. With a limited budget, it is vital that private enterprise be encouraged and resources received from the international donor community be used judiciously for the good of the state as a whole. Whilst it is early days, the drive for infrastructure development is already beginning to yield results, with two new runways and airports to be constructed at Garowe (the state capital) and at Bosasso (the key commercial port). These two projects alone look set to greatly increase regional connectivity, something that is already eagerly anticipated. Uppermost in the minds of all Puntland State government officials is the issue of security and whilst challenges remain, it is clear there is a renewed sense of purpose in the desire to forge an economic climate that will begin to create the jobs the region so desperately needs. Ministers are remarkably candid about the challenges that remain, they recognise that there is considerable expectation from locals, returning members of the Diaspora and international partners. Puntland cannot wholly isolate itself from what is going on around it, but is determined to become a template of what the whole of Somalia could become. This message is a strong one, one that appears to resonate well with potential investors. In Puntland State, here is a region that is committed to normalising its relations with its neighbours, one that does not seek to fracture the country with secessionist aspirations, and which importantly is intent on tackling the scourge of youth unemployment and underemployment.
Importantly Puntland State has set great store by equity and democratisation. It seeks harmonious relations with the national government in Mogadishu, but is keen to see that the regions such as itself are not held back due to lack of funds and resources. Its strategic location means it is well placed to be a regional gateway as well as a strategic trading centre. It is also worth noting that it is blessed with a topography that means it is ideal for harnessing both wind and solar energy. Nation building is well underway, yet much more remains to be done. Here is a part of the Somali narrative that is very different to that which is usually told. Puntland is not seeking handouts, but desires people of goodwill to help it on its quest for normalisation. Serious investors are already receiving the green light and there is anecdotal evidence that more are expressing interest in sectors as diverse as construction, fisheries, mining and tourism. Of course as in all great enterprises risks remain, but for all the challenges probably the greatest risk of all for potential investors is that they miss an opportunity to be part of a remarkable success story, one that is seeing Somalia differently.
Mark T Jones
International Speaker & Leadership Specialist