Somaliland's 'unsung heroes': cut off from most international assistance, entrepreneurs in Somaliland have built the would-be country's economy from scratch.

Author:Jeffrey, James
Position:Countryfiles: Somaliland

The floor of Yahye Yusuf's office is covered with a carpet of muffin packages, a testament to the success of his bakery in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland.

Yusuf started French Pastry in 2011 after noticing the popularity of croissants and other pastries imported from Djibouti. Initially, he produced only croissants at a maximum of 300 a day and had to persuade shopkeepers to take his pastries while shelling out $30 for a plastic container in each shop to house his products.

"Now they ring up and ask me to deliver early in the morning and are buying extra containers themselves," Yusuf says. These days the bakery produces about 2,000 croissants daily, along with 5,000 muffins and various quantities of cakes, loaves of bread, and biscuits. "You've got to know your market," he says.

Yusuf is following a strong tradition of Somalilander entrepreneurs who have emerged over the past couple of decades and had a profound impact on their country, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia that is still seeking its independence.

"It would not be an exaggeration to describe the private sector as the unsung heroes of Somaliland's struggle for survival," says Rakiya Omaar, a Somali lawyer and Chair of Horizon Institute, a Somaliland consultancy firm helping communities transition from underdevelopment to resilience and stability. "The spirit of entrepreneurship has been a central and critical thread in transforming the economy."

After Somaliland's declaration of independence from the Republic of Somalia in 1991, following three decades of strife and civil war, it was Somaliland businessmen who took on the job of a building a new country in circumstances that would have put off the most seasoned capitalists, Omaar explains.

They helped establish a rudimentary police force, financed peace conferences, contributed funds to the government, provided jobs, facilitated remittances and "unleashed hope and pride in self-reliance", Omaar says.

Much of that entrepreneurial drive stemmed from necessity. As the international community has not recognised Somaliland's claim to sovereignty, the self-declared independent nation has been cut off from large-scale international assistance and access to global financial systems and institutions and has had to go it alone.

After the civil war Hargeisa was in ruins. Now arrivals to the sun-blasted city of 800,000 people encounter a mish-mash of chaotic market commerce existing alongside diaspora-funded construction, including...

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