RealTime IT News

Last African Country Somalia Wires to the Web

[Mogadishu, SOMALIA] Six years after the first African country, Ghana, introduced Web access to its population, the entire continent can now be said to be wired to the Internet as Somalia's first Internet service provider opened its doors on Saturday. The Somali Internet Company, a joint venture between three Somali telecommunications companies - Barakat, Astel and Nationlink - became the first Somalian ISP when it began taking paid subscriptions over the weekend.

Previously, Somalians wishing to make use of the Internet were required to dial-up using an overseas internet service, an expensive and time-consuming option. The new service will eradicate this need, linking to the Internet at 128kilobits/second through a satellite link from ArabSat.

This announcement has broader implications, resonating throughout the continent and overseas. Somalia is the last country to launch an ISP service, at a time when Internet provision seems a ubiquitous service in countries throughout the world and even on the notoriously infrastructurally-challenged African continent.

Ghana, became the first African country to provide the Internet for its citizens in 1994 but since then all other nations on the continent have taken to the World Wide Web with gusto, with South Africa, Egypt and Kenya acknowledged as the continental Internet pioneers.

With South African President Thabo Mbeki commenting recently that Africa must embrace a digital, Internet-based economy in order to keep pace with trends in the rest of the world, this initiative provides a complete platform for Internet expansion into the continent.

There is reason to temper this ambition however, especially in the Somalian context. While the Internet may now be accessible at the cost of a local phone call, there are only 25,000 fixed line telephone subscribers in the capital, Mogadishu. The Internet service itself, according to Somalian Technical Consultant Jama Mohammed, will only be able to sustain 2,000 subscribers, a fraction of the Internet usage tabulated in South Africa (1,82-million users in 1999), Egypt (440,000 in March 2000) and Morocco (120,000).

Speaking to ISP Africa Online this week, Mohammed revealed that the service would cost $20 a month with an effective hourly charge of $6 to access the Internet. In a country racked by war and without a central government since the overthrow of former Dictator Siad Barre nearly a decade ago, this amount will immediately prove to be too expensive for the majority of the population. On the other hand, the hitherto-unavailable service is initially targeting businessmen and the wealthy who were previously paying extortionate fees to access overseas Internet servers in any event.

A conference was due to be held this weekend in neighboring Djibouti to elect a new Somalian premier. Depending upon the success of this conference, optimists will be hoping that the birth of the Internet in Somalia could become synonymous with a period of stability in the country's history and a bid for inclusion into the embryonic African economy.