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In conservative Somalia, an online app to find your soulmate

In conservative Somalia, an online app to find your soulmate
Young Somali refugee women look at a smartphone as they stand together   -  
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In Somalia, a new dating app is enjoying great success. But in this conservative Muslim society in the Horn of Africa, Guurdoon isn't a new Tinder for multiplying conquests: it's aimed at finding a soulmate to start a family.

Launched in October 2022, the application already has tens of thousands of subscribers, according to its founders.

On "Guurdoon" ("in search of marriage" in the Somali language), you don't "swipe" profiles or photos to the right or left, as you would on the Western applications Tinder or Bumble.

You first have to answer a series of questions such as "Choose the profile you prefer: 1. Single 2. Widow", or "Are you looking for someone who has a job?". Depending on the answers provided, profiles are then proposed.

Rahma Hussein has no regrets about paying the 23,000 Somali shillings (less than one euro on the black currency market) to access the application. "It works very well (...) It's easy to use," the 23-year-old nurse tells AFP.

"It's less difficult than physically meeting strangers. When you interact with someone online, you can ask them all the questions you want and make sure they're right for you before you meet them," she smiles.

A tuktuk driver in the capital Mogadishu, Abdifatah Adan also uses it. "I entered the characteristics I wanted to find in my partner and the app suggested (...) about eight people," explains the young man: "I just need to make up my mind and choose one."

- Strengthening marriage -

The app was created by the Guryosamo association, founded in 2012 to encourage marriage and help young people wishing to marry but lacking the financial capacity to do so, in this poor country ravaged by civil war after the fall of dictator Siad Barré in 1991, and still plagued today by the insurgency of radical Islamists Shebab.

"Everything society needed has collapsed, including the family, which is its backbone," explains its director Ahmed Abshir Geedi.

"We have big problems today with marriages. Our young people are rushing to get married and then immediately getting divorced", he adds.

Meetings with religious leaders, elders, and intellectuals on the subject gave rise to Guurdoon's idea.

"We understood the need to promote a platform where people of all ages can meet and find each other as partners since our young people are mainly on social networks these days," he explains.

But in this traditional 99% Muslim society, "the app is something totally new (...) and some people are confused by its use", concedes Ahmed Abshir Geedi.

- My parents don't know about it" -

Abdifatah Adan brought it up with his mother, who laughed at him. "She told me it was easy to fool someone using technology," he says.

Rahma Hussein only uses the app when she's with friends who are also registered.

In her family, she has only told her brother about it. "My parents don't know, I can't tell them I'm dating a man or looking for someone online (...) because of cultural norms," she explains.

A 35-year-old divorced father, Mohamed Yasin hesitated before downloading the app.

"We're a society that values religion and its cultural norms, and internet platforms like this can violate those values because the concept of a dating app (comes) from the West," he explains.

He finally took the plunge in the hope of finding a new wife.

But the search brings its share of doubts, as it does with Western apps.

"It seems to me that most people lie about their personal information", says Muhidin Abdinur, a user from Mogadishu, who remains undeterred: "My intentions are good, so I'm sure I'll get a 'match'. (...) Even if I don't find a suitable partner that I end up marrying, it will give me more seduction experience."

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