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Somali e-commerce takes off, despite few internet users


Despite low numbers of internet users and sluggish speeds, e-commerce businesses are popping up in Somalia, hoping to tap in as measures to increase access in the Horn of Africa country come online.

University worker Safiya Ahmed In her office in Mogadishu buys a blender with just a few clicks of a mouse.

Somalia has one of the lowest internet penetration rates globally, But developments in recent years, such as the launch of fibre-optic services in 2014, have given rise to new online customers and businesses.

“Today people know how to order goods through online markets and they even shop online overseas. As you know, the internet (use) in Somalia used to be very low because not everyone could get access. But now everyone can get internet via mobile, at home and elsewhere, so Somali online businesses will be successful in the near future,” said Ahmed, a financial officer at Mogadishu’s Golden University.

A study by M-Lab, a global consortium that measures internet speeds, found in July that Somalia has an average download speed of 0.60 megabytes per second. a mere three places from the bottom of 200 countries whose speeds were tested. In comparison, Singapore, which is ranked number 1, has an average speed of 60.39 megabytes per second.

But that has not deterred firms like Soomar, which offers all sorts of goods from electronics to food on its website.

It was the first e-commerce business established in Somalia, in 2016, and remains one of the biggest – though it does have competitiors such as Sami-Online and Hubaal.

Soomar makes more than 25,000 sales transactions every month, and growing, said its chief executive, Mohamed Mohamud. He said customers can also book tickets for travel and doctors’ appointments.

“There are many challenges we face. The infrastructure of the main cities of Somalia and most of the roads were broken in the war and our delivery cars and motorbikes struggle to get to a place. In some cases there is no home or postal address for you to follow when someone orders goods online,” Mohamud said.

According to Somalia’s Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Technology, just 1.88 percent of Somalis used the internet as of 2016.

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