BY JUDY WAGUMA
The Jazeera Palace Hotel in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, stands out defiantly between rubbles. It’s a show of how the past and the present in Somalia are overlapping and even competing for attention. The hotel, one of the famous meeting places in Mogadishu, represents the desired new order in the capital city – neat, orderly and organised. The hotel is strategically located near the Aden Adde International Airport. The distance between the two is a 15-minute walk. Enter the hotel and you will confirm one thing: Somalis love for space.
The Jazeera does not betray this aspect. The expansive lounge invites you in. The reception area is wide too. It has modern decor, with three different clocks showing time in different cities of the world, as common in big hotels. A key observation is that the hotel hosts the first and only Automated Teller Machine (ATM) in Mogadishu. On the opposite side of the lounge is the busy dining area, where waiters dressed in white and black are busy serving clients. “We are the new Kempinski of Mogadishu,” Justus Kisaulu, the hotel’s general manager says jokingly in comparison to the globally recognised Kempinski luxury hotels. Kisaulu, a Kenyan, is part of the expatriate population providing specialised labour in Mogadishu. Jazeera Palace Hotel houses dignitaries and business executives.
After his swearing in, the President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, worked from the hotel for about one week. The Chinese Embassy, while searching for office space, was based at the hotel. The rooms, 70 in number, cost $200 to $400 per night. They are often fully booked or reserved. The hotel management has placed a lot of emphasis on two areas: security and service. They do this by hiring highly qualified staff. As the country rebuilds its educational institutions to provide human capital, many corporate businesses have to rely on expatriate staff to meet the demands for specialised work.
Jazeera hotel does the same. “We recruit staff from neigbouring countries, but only at the managerial positions,” says Kisaulu. The expatriates play a two-fold role. One, they bring in the much needed international quality of service, given that 70 per cent of the hotel’s clients are from outside Somalia. Two, the expatriates help to transfer technical know-how to the local workforce for succession benefit. “The staff is world class. Our food and beverages are top quality. Plus, we offer continental cuisine in order to take care of our global clientele,” says Kisaulu, who sees the knowledge and technical transfer to the Somali staff as a key role of the hotel in the rebuilding of the country.
The prosperity of businesses like the Jazeera is greatly dependent on improved security. Indeed, security, as examples across the world, including neighbouring Kenya, has shown, is a sensitive prerequisite for growth in the hospitality industry. Jazeera has taken measures to provide enhanced security. The hotel has many trained guards and circuited TV systems. It has taken other required measures that cost thousands of dollars to help secure the premises. The hotel has also invested in a 24-hour power generator to defray the unreliability and the high cost of electricity in Somalia. “I can protect the hotel area, but the people living around it and my clients also need protection. Therefore, stability is key for Somalia,” says Kisaulu. However, as the hotel manager observes, security within Mogadishu has also gradually improved. This has helped the business.
“In the past, by about 6pm, you would hardly hear the sound of a car on the streets. Today, way past midnight, I can see trucks moving around,” he says. Kisaulu acknowledges the resilience of the Somali people, observing that even at the heart of the war, people still used to run hotels where others could eat and sleep. To get a god feel of Jazeera hotel, you need to watch the sun above the ocean from the balconies, or get to the rooftop and watch the city of Mogadishu as you sip your cup of coffee. Kisaulu’s last word: “Those who want to seek employment in Mogadishu’s hotel industry need to know that the city offers the same opportunities as anywhere else in the world. For the tourists, Mogadishu is an unexplored tourism gem. The longest coastline in Africa is just the start. And for the investors, this is a worthy area to pump your money in. The opportunities are endless.”