With a new law, Somalia is ready for investment in media

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By Mohamed Dubo

For a while, media commercialisation in Somalia has been hampered by the lack of a regulatory framework. Potential local and foreign investors have had to adopt a “wait and see” strategy.

Today, the country has a media law that was recently passed by the Federal parliament and assented to by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. This development will hopefully give investors the confidence to move into this potentially lucrative industry.

Somalia’s media industry has been in trial and error mode since the collapse of the central government in 1991. Media houses, mostly radio, have operated in an unregulated environment, attracted nonetheless by the opportunity for free speech, which had been limited under Siad Barre’s authoritarian regime.

People relished the opportunity to talk freely and own FM radio stations, leading to a situation in which almost every clan had one to propagate its agenda, much of it war related propaganda.

This became the case for nearly two decades. Media content was unchecked, unregulated (self or otherwise) and did harm more than good. The media in Somalia then could hardly be regarded as the Fourth Estate. They went to bed with warlords, war economists, and foreign intelligence service operatives. Little did they seem to understand the magnitude of the negative impact this was bringing to Somalia.

Foreign media found opportunity in the unfolding confusion to broadcast “juicy news” from the country, sometimes sprinkled with ideologies or agendas from their mother states.

Somalis gradually got jolted back to reality when they started to realise that it was not always that the foreign news broadcasters conveyed wholesome news.

Today, Somalia, with a progressive vision, is keen to build a media industry that drives its socio-economic and political agenda in an objective manner. The new law provides the opportunity for the industry to not only be guided back on track, but also to up their game to standards that are globally acceptable.

The demand for such media exists, both in broadcast and print. The reasons and opportunities for investment in this industry are diverse.

Hunger for good reading content
The perception that the reading culture in Somalia is low is a myth. Somalis are blogging and reading blogs. They are active participants on all major social media networks. From basic research and personal interactions, there is a genuine hunger in Somalia for objective and more comprehensive content to read.

The growing readership of The Somalia Investor magazine, now marking its first anniversary, speaks of a market with hungry consumers of good reading material. From 2,000 copies one year ago, the circulation of the quarterly business magazine now averages 5,000 copies on print. Online, more than 20,000 copies are sold.

Advertisement business in Somalia
There is a thriving advertisement environment in Somalia. Somalia’s home-grown corporates have been shaken into appreciating the power of advertising, thanks to the multinational companies that have set up operations in the country and Somali investors from the diaspora, who have demonstrated the benefit of penetrating markets through advertising.

In the absence of concrete data, the advertising industry in Somalia is roughly estimated to be worth over 10 million dollars. The trajectory is positive.This reality is encouraging. Commercial media is sustained by a healthy advertising environment.

Media production and distribution
There is no daily newspaper in Somalia today, save for Hargeisa. How does a nation thrive and develop without daily national newspapers to convey important information to the public and promote productive debate?

Print media investment not only stands to be profitable in Somalia, but will further offer investors, both local and foreign, the opportunity to steer a positive agenda and spur social and economic changes that would otherwise take longer to realise. There is satisfaction in such involvement.

Further investment opportunities exist in media distribution companies. A number of publishers of magazines and newspapers keen on penetrating the Somalia market are held back by a stinging absence of established distribution companies.

Video Production
Somalia is deficient of video production companies. In Mogadishu, for instance, there are only two. Talent is low locally, which explains slow investment in this area by locals. Demand exists though, and foreign investors could find good room to set up both production and training businesses.

Broadcast Media
Somalia has many FM radio stations, but television remains least explored. Nearly all Somali speaking television stations transmit from Europe or elsewhere. That compromises the veracity of their content.

Local and foreign investors should consider investing in television and generate the much desired authentic content for the local audience. Provision of genuine news and information could help shape the political, social and economic landscape of Somalia in ways that could improve lives.

Digital Media
There is hardly any digital media company in Somalia, yet the world is going digital. Today’s global brands are thriving through the digital space. Somalia’s corporations and government agencies do not have an option but to go digital.

The writer is the Executive Director of research firm Data Grid Somalia