Regulation

Somali "Government" to Regulate Only Thing in Somalia That Actually Works: Cell Phones

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"I'll give you my cell phone when you take it from my cold, dead hands!"

We've all been there—you're in charge of an increasingly irrelevant African government, you don't even live inside the country, and shilling for money from the international community is just hard. So what's your next move? If you're Somalia, the answer is clear: Telecom regulation.

The Transitional Federal Government (TFG)—an aspirational title, at best—has always been a bit out of touch with its people. Like most pretenders to the Somali throne, the government is composed of unelected Somalis who are returning from years in the diaspora—25, in the case of the prime minister—and the government has actually been based in Nairobi since it was chased out of the country a few years ago. They're promising to return to Mogadishu this month, but the prime minister was last spotted speaking to local wisemen and attending a native cultural gathering in his ancestral village of Buffalo, New York.

The concerns of the Somali cabinet seem to be less regulatory and more budgetary. The government, after all, isn't providing security, so it has to pretend to do something for its money. In 2006, with the aid of American advisers and weapons, they aligned themselves with Ethiopia (Somalia's sworn enemy) and tried to expel the incipient Islamic Courts Union (ICU). But in a textbook example of blowback, the mildly Islamist ICU morphed into the much more vicious al-Shabaab insurgency, which the TFG is battling to this day.

Mobile telephony is one of the few industries that has weathered statelessness well, so it's not surprising that the TFG is seeking to bring it under its wing. Unhindered by regulation and state-imposed monopoly, Somalia has some of the lowest domestic and international rates in all of Africa—an international call costs just 30¢/min., far less than what American cell phone companies charge. And while it's easy for Westerners to write off cell phones as a frivolous first-world luxury, they are a vital link for hitherto unconnected pastoral Somalis. From checking prices in nearby markets to transferring money easily and safely, cell phones are a tremendous tool for lifting people out of poverty. But as the most functional and productive actors in the Somali economy, the network operators are also juicy targets for a "state" looking for domestic revenue to augment its meaty paychecks from the international community.

Telecommunications in Somalia may be a little rough around the edges—interconnectivity agreements are incomplete, and the nation lacks a reliable fiber connection to the outside world—but it's been an amazing success story for a nation that's more commonly depicted as a poverty pornstar. The fledgling state's attempt to leech off the industry is an interesting case study in modern state formation and predation, but it's hard to see what ordinary Somalis are going to get out of this deal. Perhaps the Transitional Federal Government should work on assuring the basic security needs of its citizens before it kills the goose that laid the golden cell phone.

NEXT: Reason Writers on TV: Matt Welch Discusses President Obama's New Regulatory Re-Think on Varney & Co.

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  1. DRINK!

    Just getting it out of the way.

  2. Also, ROADS!

  3. Somali “Government” to Regulate Only Thing in Somalia That Actually Works: Cell Phones

    I hear the piracy industry is booming as well.

    1. Shhhh!

      They’ll want to regulate the minimal number of assault transports aboard motherships if they hear that!

  4. I’m wondering just how this bunch of kleptocrats plans to actually extract money from the telecoms.

    If I’m a telecom, I’m wondering, what happens if I tell them to screw off?

    1. And I’m wondering who exactly is going to try to get that guy with the big-ass machine gun to pay his phone bill.

      1. I imagine it’s all pre-paid.

        1. Yes, this is how it works in most of the world.

    2. If I’m a telecom, I’m wondering, what happens if I tell them to screw off?

      I believe that’s a picture of the current president of Somalia. He’s also the Chief Justice and the head of the SCC.

  5. Gosh, I can’t wait to move there. Because I hear it’s a libertarian paradise.

    1. I hear they have a thriving moving company market on the open seas.

  6. The TFG barley controls its own area. It will be unable to extort money out of any telecom that isn’t headquartered within a mile of Villa Somalia. So like all things when talking about “government” in Somalia this will come to nothing.

  7. Caption Contest!

    “Yeah, Domino’s? I’d like to order…you don’t deliver to Mogadishu?”

    1. “But I wanted to try the new recipe!!!”

      1. “This here is a fitty-cal. I’m the only one in this desert that I know of professional enough to be handling this.”

        1. You dumbass, those are obviously 7.62x54mmR. You are so dumb. Dumbass.

          1. “This here is a 7.62x54mmR. I’m the only one in this desert that I know of professional enough to be handling this.”

            Now I feel safer.

            1. Getting to play with PKMs is the only attraction Somalia has, but it might be sufficient for me.

              1. There is the khat. UN peacekeeping forces report chewing khat improves stateless person’s PKM marksmanship

        2. “Hello. Is this STEVE SMITH? We have some government scumbags we need raped.”

          1. RAPE JOKES are not funny! And are definitely a violation of campus speech codes. Codes that our alumni will bring to all of America.

            1. You know you want it.

            2. STEVE SMITH AGREE! STEVE SMITH SAY NOTHING FUNNY ABOUT RAPE! STEVE SMITH SAY RAPE SERIOUS BUSINESS!

    2. “Hello, Mrs Jones, my Uncle is a government minister and he needs your help to transfer $30 million out of Somalia…”

    3. Kalashnikov support desk, press one for belt feed, two for New Year’s specials…

    4. “Hi Miss Cleo. Will I be a real pirate someday?”

    5. “Mike who? Hunt? Wait, let me check…”

    6. “Hi Sarah. I have the gun locked and loaded. Yeah, there’s a bunch of democrats meeting right behind me…”

    7. “Mega dittos, Rush!”

    8. “You’ll never guess where I’m calling from! Yup, I’m in LIBERTOPIA, and it’s fucking awesome! Not a road in sight.”

      Or,

      “Drink!”

    9. Q:”Anything else?”

      A: “Phase plasma rifle in the 40 watt range.”

      Q: “Hey, just what you see, pal.”

  8. Wait, I thought Somalia was the example of failed anarchism? That’s what the Randian morons keep saying. So how is there a government to regulate anything?

    1. Hey, there you are ? I’ve been looking all over for you! I thought we had a deal??

      1. I was in a 2.5 hour meeting. Sorry. I’ll try harder.

      2. There are no contracts in Epitopia. Because truly free people cannot be bound by past commitments.

    2. So how is there a government to regulate anything?

      What part of failed anarchism is giving you trouble, Epi?

      1. That’s right–failed anarchy is something-archy.

      2. Good point.

    3. If you think that a great cell phone market makes up for grinding poverty and endless violence, then you are truly a fucking idiot. A quality shared by all anarchists.

  9. Haha. Really funny on the alt-text.

    You won’t be laughing, Stephen, when you realize that guy’s uncle is the President of Nigeria and he just made me a cool mil (to be collected) for sending him a check for 2 grand.

    So there!

  10. The Nation-State concept does not work in Africa; it’s a phenomenon born in 16th century Europe and exported around the globe, much to the distress of the subsequent developing world.

  11. Somalia is the Libertarian ‘par excellance’ no doubt.

    Perhaps if they started with a Central Bank, then an FDIC, then Basil regs……

    nahhh!!!! – Cro-Magnon Libertarians beat their meat to Somalia!

    1. And here is the King of the Spastic OCD Morons to play directly to stereotype.

    2. Re: shrike,

      Somalia is the Libertarian [si] ‘par excellance’ no doubt.

      Shrike, honey, you do realize that Somalia is not really a person, don’t you???

      1. If I wanted to quote your quoting, how would I do it?

        Should it be this …

        Somalia is the Libertarian [si (sic)] ‘par excellance’ no doubt.

        … or this?

        Somalia is the Libertarian [si] [sic] ‘par excellance’ no doubt.

    3. If, 150 years after Somalia went anarchist, they invaded a country halfway around the world that most Somalis couldn’t point to on a map and 7 million people died, would you point to this as evidence for why “anarchy can’t work”?

      1. WTF? No…it all depends on WHY they are going to war and if they win it.

    4. It’s par excellence, numbnuts.

      Here’s some more French practice for you: Ta mere suce des ours dans la foret. Pourquoi pas tu ne faut retourner ? la pute qui t’a accouch?e?

  12. Excellent opening paragraph Stephen J Smith, whoever you are.

    1. I think he works for ESPN.

    2. HOW YOU NOT KNOW WHO STEVE SMITH IS? STEVE RAPE AND EAT YOU FOR DISRESPECT! ALSO, HOW STEVE GOING TO GET ON DANCING WITH STARS IF YOU NOT KNOW WHO IS?

      1. These women were so traumatized, they wrote a song about their encounter with Steve.

        “As I was saying
        I know that I’ve been one of the few
        who walks away from you
        Steven Smith, we all lose
        One look at you
        And they’re suddenly covered in Shrapnel too
        It’s true, most die in your bedroom”

  13. Caption Contest!

    “Warranty Services here. How can I deny your claim today?”

  14. Mobile telephony is one of the few industries that has weathered statelessness well, so it’s not surprising that the TFG is seeking to bring it under its wing.

    Good luck with that.

  15. Hold up. This can’t be the original STEVE SMITH. This is well written, and there are no awkward self-portraits of the shaved ape variety. Pics or you’re a Sasquatch, Stephen.

    1. STEVE SMITH RAPE MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT STEVE SMITH

      1. I think raping ideas is proof the aversion therapy is working. Citizens of the Pacific Northwest, you are now free to frolick about the woods.

        1. *frolic

          If you don’t want any spelling rules, why don’t you just move to SOMALIA!!??!!

          1. Somalia texting must be fun:

            UR ded man, jus stk ur hed up.

  16. Dumb question:
    I’ve read much about the somalia/cell phone stuff (mostly here in Reason). Can someone tell me how security works? How come no one just cuts down, or blows away, the towers an other infrastructure? Do they pay local protection rackets, have security officers, or have they reached some Lockean peaceful understanding of a mutual benefit?

    1. Read this.

      No government means no state telecoms company to worry about, no corrupt ministry officials to pay off (there is no ministry), and the freedom to choose the best-value equipment. Taxes, payable to a tentative local authority or strongman, are seldom more than 5%, security is another 5% (more in Mogadishu),

      I also saw a snippet somewhere, i.e. unreliable, that said those towers would cook a bird flying in front of it. No regs = no limits.

      1. The Somalis have death rays?

        1. They edited that part out of Blackhawk Down.

          1. I’ve never seen that. Should I bother?

            1. Pretty good war movie, I thought. Its been awhile, though.

              1. No, BHD was a pretty good peace-keeping movie. War movies are bad. And bad.

                Did I mention that war movies are bad?

              2. Maybe I’ll watch it, then. I like good Scott films.

        2. Exactly. How cool is that?! What am I doing wasting my time under this repressive regime when THE SOMALIS HAVE FRICKING LASER BEAMS!!!!?????

          1. I’m saddened that the U.S. has lost its preeminence in death ray technology.

              1. Fools!

                I saw a demonstration (very small scale) of Tesla’s proposed system for transmitting electricity wirelessly. Awesome!

              2. Well yeah, hair metal and all.

                1. Not that Tesla, though he predicted the rise of metal.

          2. Making a death ray is easy.

            Controlling who it kills is the hard part.

      2. many potential customers are illiterate and so immune to advertising.

        So that’s the secret! STOP READING! IT ALLOWS THE CORPORASHUNS TO KONTROL YOU!

      3. Pricing is especially important in Somalia, says Mr Ali, because many potential customers are illiterate and so immune to advertising.

        Libertarian utopia? More like the AdBusters utopia! Seriously, somebody should point this out to them…

  17. The TFG obviously reads Krugman.

  18. But as the most functional and productive actors in the Somali economy, the network operators are also juicy targets for a “state” looking for domestic revenue to augment its meaty paychecks from the international community.

    The State thieves, because that is what States. All states are criminal enterprises – all of them.

    States set up protection rackets (which some call with a sick sense of humor “police”), licensing rackets (i.e. pimping), and extorsion rackets (called “tax collection” by some sick fucks). So it is no wonder the “new” Somali government wants to feed from the productive – that is what gangsters (States) do.

    1. “because that is what States do.”

      Sorry.

  19. Hidden in there is the fact that in the middle of bum-fucking-Somalia there are cell phones and cell phone towers.

    That is a testament to technology and markets driving the standard of living for all classes.

    1. Probably with better service than AT&T provides in NYC.

  20. Is any one worried that all that gun violence will trigger heated partisan rhetoric?

    1. It’s cool, their minutes are cheap enough to support lots of heated rhetoric.

  21. So, wait, this is the STEVE SMITH, right?

    1. THERE ONLY ONE STEVE SMITH! STEVE ALL STEVE SMITHS! STEVE NOT REALLY UNDERSTAND HOW WORKS, BUT IT VERY MYSTICAL!

    2. Coming to Reason TV in May: Steve Smith the Musical

      Overture
      Why Can’t the English teach their Children How to Rape?
      The Rape in Spain
      I Could Have Raped All Night
      On The Street where You Rape
      Get me to the Rape on Time
      I Could Have Raped All Night (reprise)

      1. No, no, STEVE SMITH the musical was already done: Night Man, by Charlie Kelly.

        Night Man, sneaky and mean
        Spider inside my dreams
        I think I love you

        You make me wanna cry
        You make me wanna die
        I love you, I love you, I love you,
        I love you, I love you
        Night Man

        Every night you come into my room
        And pin me down with your strong arms
        You pin me down, and I try to fight you
        You come inside me
        You fill me up
        And I become the Night Man…

        It’s just 2 men sharing the night
        It might seem wrong but it’s just right
        It’s just 2 men sharing each other
        It’s just 2 men like loving brothers

        One on top and one on bottom
        One inside and one is out
        One is screaming, he’s so happy
        The other’s screamin’ a passionate shout

        It’s the Night Man
        I’m feeling so wrong and right, man
        I’m feeling so wrong and right, man

        I can’t fight you, man
        When you come inside me
        And pin me down with your strong hands
        And I become the Night…
        The passionate, passionate Night Man

          1. Mac: I mean, the first half of that song was kind of cool, but what’s with the second half?

            Charlie: It’s about the Night Man, like you know, like filling me up and I become him–I become the spirit of the Night Man.

            Mac: But it sounds like a song where a man breaks into your house and rapes you.

            1. Frank: You gotta pay the troll toll to get into this boy’s hole. You gotta pay the troll toll to get in. You want this baby boy’s hole, you gotta pay the troll toll…

              Charlie: Stop, stop, stop. All right, not bad. Good rhythm, love the enthusiasm. I feel like you’re saying “boy’s hole,” and it’s clearly “soul.”

        1. With Two & a Half Men on at least six times a day and Jay Leno back on the Tonight Show, who has time to watch anything else?

    3. I think it’s an impostor.

  22. *Belt fed weapons not available for sale in CA, NY, MA, NJ, CT or DE.

  23. Threadjack: “Baby Doc” arrested
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com…..le1874450/

      1. Oh, for cute!

    1. Screw Haiti, then. I’ve got a bright new future …. in SOMALIA!!

      1. The guns’ll come out,
        Somalia.
        Bet your bottom dollar
        That in Somalia,
        There’ll be guns!

          1. You mean Somalia: The Musical has already been done? I’m so embarrassed.

  24. Anyone here actually been to Somalia?

    1. No, is it as wonderful as on the postcard?

      1. I dunno but if I can carry a piece like that I think I want to visit.

    2. Somaliland currently represents the Shangri-la for those who dare to break the mould of conventional travel. This is the road less travelled, and virgin territory for travelati.
      The safety of Westerners is taken very seriously in Somaliland, and Hargeisa was one of the safest cities in Africa when we visited.

      http://www.lonelyplanet.com/so…..somaliland

      1. one of the safest cities in Africa

        Not, perhaps, the strongest recommendation . . . .

      2. The safety of Westerners is taken very seriously in Somaliland

        if the ransom money appears forthcoming.

    3. lived there for 3 years in the 80’s.
      hot. dry. no shopping. no electricity.
      no food. all around nice place to live

  25. Somalia’s government failed because the country is too poor for people to get fucked over by a government. How is the government going to steal from people who are already forced to steal for a living?

    This is why I don’t understand why people use Somalia as an example of libertarian anarchy. Libertarian anarchy is about overthrowing the government because society recognizes that what the government does is wrong. It has nothing to do with citizen criminals getting government criminals off their backs.

    1. I think the argument is that without a bloated, inhuman state forcing itself into every nook and cranny of our lives and stealing half our hard-earned money, we must fail into warlordism. Which is a telling comment on the people making that argument and a makes everything undesirable that their “right-sized” government does completely their fault.

      Worst case scenario is not inevitability. If libertarianism can only be viewed as Somalia, I assert what we have now should only be conceptualized as that little naked Vietnamese girl, running down a road with her skin on fire.

      1. Awesome “DeMotiviational” poster idea, SF.

        That picture, with your choice of captions:

        YOUR TAX DOLLARS
        At Work

        TO RAISE A CHILD
        It Takes a Village

        THE CHILDREN
        That’s Who Its For

        1. Shouldn’t take but a minute. The first one really nails, I think.

        2. http://i.imgur.com/bc98T.jpg

          http://i.imgur.com/K7fpM.jpg

          Also I am not a robot please leave me alone, spam filter 🙁

        3. I prefer my poster with the famous Elian Gonzalez photo on it with the caption:

          TAXES
          The price we pay for civilization

      2. a bloated, inhuman state forcing itself into every nook and cranny of our lives and stealing half our hard-earned money

        Don’t you work for the state?

        1. Your mom asked me that just the other day. I told her I was shitting in her mouth for free.

          1. It must suck to be a hypocritical parasite. No wonder you’re so angry.

            1. No more food for you, anonopussy.

              1. Are you the “head” librarian?

      3. States commit atrocities, that is correct. The problem with anarchy is that it is unstable…a coercive power bearing a striking resemblance to a state in all but name, will arise quickly throughout the area. Indeed, Somalia really isn’t an anarchy, as warlords have divided it up into small regions of control.

        And extra-governmental coercers like warlords and Mafia orgs and such aren’t exactly known for gentle, humane enforcement of their will. And it’s far more likely that the coercer that arises after the fall of a state will be like that rather than like the relatively benevolent govt we have now.

        Our society and government is like a grimy old china shop that needs a thorough cleaning. What the anarchos propose is bringing a bull inside and seeing what happens. Who knows? Maybe it will grab a broom in its mouth and sweep up.

        1. “I think the argument is that without a bloated, inhuman state forcing itself into every nook and cranny of our lives and stealing half our hard-earned money, we must fail into warlordism. Which is a telling comment on the people making that argument and a makes everything undesirable that their “right-sized” government does completely their fault.” — SugarFree

      4. Good stuff SF.

    2. Libertarian anarchy is about overthrowing the government because society recognizes that what the government does is wrong. It has nothing to do with citizen criminals getting government criminals off their backs.

      Anarchy is the absence of government in a populated area. If you start assuming that the individuals in the area have uniformly benevolent attitudes (in particular, the desire to keep the anarchy in place rather than taking power for themselves), you’re telling faerie tales, just like the socialist anarchists do.

  26. To the guy that said Nations states don’t work in Africa, do you know how many African states are working just fine (most of them), do you know how many states have never even fought a civil war (many of them). Please go and read a good history book and stop listening to the American media.

    Also Somalia is not an example of anarchy. Anarchy implies that there no institutions of the state function and their are no rulermakers. Somalia is the complete opposite, there several if not hundreds of rulemakers, and there are several “institutions” that operate in the place of a government that provide security and set rules, they are just not what people in the West would call a “government”. But they are the “authority”.

    Another thing is that this article states that the government is based in Nairobi Kenya, actually the government moved to Mogadishu over 3 years ago.

    1. I see by your name that you’re Somali, so I’m hesitant to argue with you, but I haven’t seen the evidence that the Somali government moved back to Mogadishu. About a week ago the government promised to move back, implying that they’re current still in Nairobi. Additionally, the telecom regulation was apparently proposed in Nairobi (see the first link in the article). So what makes you think they’re back in Mogadishu already?

      1. STEVE SMITH RAPE SOMALI GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS IN NAIROBI JUST YESTERDAY!!! HARD TO WALK TO MOGADISHU WITHOUT ROADS AFTER STEVE SMITH RAPE!!!

      2. One good way is to read the article and find that the Prime Minister of the TFG is not Ali Mohamed Gedi who was forced to resign and President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed who quite after moving to Mogadishu and now lives in exile somewhere in the middle east.

        also the article you linked was from 2006, thats over 4 years ago. here another article about moving to Mogadishu http://www.afrol.com/articles/24703. note that they are moving from Baidoa (a city in south central Somalia) to Mogadishu. They already moved from Nairobi.

        On another hand to the point of this article. the TFG will never be able to regulate and collect money from any territory they do not control and that includes most of Somalia, however there are probably some telecom companies in the few districts that they control in Mogadishu. its not really whether people can be forced to pay the cost but rather whether the “government” can actually manage it. The TFG is incredible incompetent.

  27. Good article but minor point: even previous to the Ethiopian liberation, the ICU was sporadically Islamist. One court would be moderate, the other extremist AQ supporters.

  28. Reason has really gone down the drain. Hiring a guy named Steve Smith just for a cheap laugh? Come on…

  29. “Come To Somalia: We’re Not Haiti”

  30. and what’s so wrong with Warlords? Worked for 99% of humanities existence! /optimist

  31. I have to take issue with this story. I am a foreign correspondent based here in Africa and I have travelled there frequently, including most recently to Mogadishu to sit down with the new prime minister. The TFG are hapless, rotten, but the story is misplaced: if you have only $1m a month in cash revenue, as the finance minister says, you have a responsibility to raise money where you can and then to spend it, transparently, where it is most needed. Please don’t knock those brave Somalis who leave their families and secure jobs abroad to take up the challenge in their homeland, at the very real risk of being shot, blown up, or beheaded by the Shabab.

  32. Just to clarify: the entire senior leadership of the TFG is in Mogadishu and the prime minister along with the president have given instructions that all ministerial travel is to be curtailed, except where it is absolutely necessary. All of these TFG offices are sandbagged and targeted by the Shabab. The prime minister is on a leave of absence from the NY State Department of Transportation. The finance minister left his post as the head of Care International’s Sudan office.

  33. Libertarians are not to blame for the mess left by a Communist then a religious regime. I suggest you go to “Libertarian International Organization” at http://www.Libertarian-International.org to see what Libertarians-Liberals are actually doing, including Libertarians in Somalia, who’re in fact working for decentralized and secular society risking their lives unlike some clueless folks here.

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