Category Archives: somalia

Guide to Djibouti

A guest post by @queenofsheeba7

I’ve absolutely and utterly been in love with Djibouti since I was a kid. Granted, it was the name the intrigued me; ever since I was 8 years old. Even as I received the stamp on my passport, I muffled a giggle to myself about the name – nope I still haven’t grown up! Djibouti is a forgotten gem of the Horn, somehow you just never know what you’re going to get when you’re in Djibouti…that’s part of the charm. Stick around this engaging city long enough and you might fall prey to its unexpected charms.

Getting there: It’s fairly easy to get to Djibouti City from Nairobi. However, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines have recently been fully booked due to the number of humanitarians running to respond to the Yemen crisis (Djibouti is among the countries in the Horn receiving a large number of individuals fleeing Yemen). Flights are between $300-$500. You will be shocked when you arrive just how TINY the Djibouti airport is and what an utter joke it is. You would think because its a joint civilian/military-used airport that it’d be more impressive. Speaking of military, don’t be surprised with all the foreign military personnel prancing around exuding testosterone.

Visas: Kenyans do require a visa into Djibouti, no surprise there. It’s $90 and you are able to receive it on arrival, as I have often done so. Inbound immigration and visa on arrival facilities are slightly chaotic though not too bad.

Getting Around: The easiest and perhaps cheapest way to get around is to hire a car during your stay. Or you could walk around as the city is pretty tiny, just that the heat may get the best of you.

Djibouti’s national language is French, so best to carry your French phrase book. I got by with a mix of French and Somali. If you speak Arabic that is an added bonus. It’s no use speaking in English as they have embraced the French attitude of pretending they don’t speak a word of English! It’s also interesting noticing how Somalis have a collective identity crisis. As they were colonized by the French, they prefer to speak French over Somali – even when other Somalis (from the diaspora or neighboring countries) try to talk to them. It’s just odd as Somalis are known for being proud of their culture and language.

Communications: You can purchase a local sim-card for about $10. You will be required to carry your passport to register for the sim-card. If you are like me and are itching to check your social media feeds/emails as soon as you land, you will sadly be waiting forever to get your hit. Most cafes & hotels do have Wi-Fi but it’s often a hit and miss. Electricity is pretty reliable, didn’t experience any power cuts. Word of advice, carry a converter!

Where to Stay: As in every city, it really depends on how much you are willing to part with. They have the Sheraton, Hilton and Kempinski that I have checked out and they are all reasonable prices – $100-$150 per night. Again, do not be surprised if there are foreign soldiers staying in your hotel. At the Kempinski, it was the norm seeing soldiers decked out in their national uniform smiling and talking to you while you wait for your breakfast.

Budget: It’s not as pricey as people say but still not cheap – $25-$40 per day (excluding car rental). Thanks to foreign military bases, everything is horrendously expensive for what you get. Some good news, is it’s easy to find ATM’s that dispense U.S dollars. Most places you can get away with paying in dollars. The catch with Djiboutian francs (and NO ONE tells you about it) is once you change from dollars to Djiboutian francs you cannot exchange them back. You are forced to use all your francs before you depart as they are completely useless outside Djibouti.

Eating Out: The food is similar to Somalia/Somaliland/Puntland, because they are Somalis after all! However, you will find European/Parisian influenced cafes and restaurants. “The Melting Pot” is my go to place for dinner. Street food and supermarkets allow you to eat for $2 – $4 per meal, while cheap restaurants are $3-$6 per meal. The French hangover in Djibouti means that delicious pastries, croissants, pain au chocolate are in abundance here.

Alcohol is available in the country, but only purchasable from hotels/bars. Most people chew miraa from 4 p.m. and sit around cafes chewing; recently their chats (well at least the ones I’ve tumbled into) have predominantly focused on the Yemen crisis. But one thing I’ve noticed is Djiboutian’s are very diplomatic, and they rarely speak ill about any country. Think of them as Switzerland in the Horn.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: As Djibouti was colonized by the French, it still holds the French feeling throughout the whole city. If you forget yourself for a moment you could feel you’re wandering down a Parisian street as you chew on your baguette (cheap and delicious by the way!). The architecture flips between European and African as does the cuisine so it truly holds an ambience unlike anything you’ll have experienced before.

IMG_8262The African market/quarter is just south of the European quarter in the city center. This is an intense lively/chaotic with a market in full swing. Like most Arab countries, markets open from sunset, so get ready to do all shopping late in the evening.

Every Thursday, the ladies go to the market from 9 p.m. & buy themselves new diraacs (Somali attire) to wear the following week. So if you really want to experience the market in full swing, go on a Thursday night. It reminds me of Mombasa in the sense that it’s very safe to walk around late at night in the bustling markets. (Perhaps it has to do with the presence of foreign military in the city)

Biggest surprise of the country: Nearly EVERYTHING in Djibouti is imported. This is great because you will find all your French foods/cosmetics in the local supermarkets. But the fact they don’t even grow anything is odd, I mean the vegetables are all imported from Ethiopia! Also, Djibouti works 6 days a week. That’s to make up for the short working hours they have (9 a.m.- 2 p.m.) due to the heat. When I was last there in September it was 38 degrees and they kept assuring me that this was cool for Djibouti. The Djiboutian Permanent Secretary for the  Ministry of Justice even bragged that Djibouti had the highest temperature ever recorded.

Guide to Somalia and Somaliland

A guest post by anonymous*

Getting There: There are now quite a few flights that operate on the Nairobi-Mogadishu route. Some of them include Turkish Airlines (but one has to go via Istanbul), African Express, East African Airlines, Jubba Airways, Air Uganda and Ethiopian Airlines (Note this one doesn’t fly to Somalia but to Hargeisa Airport in Somaliland). A ticket to Somalia or Somaliland costs between $500 to $1,000+ depending on the season. To get to Somaliland we took Jubba Airways (though I learnt they don’t comply with IATA laws), and to Somalia, we used East African Airways which is owned by 540 aviation.

On Arrival: When one lands at the Mogadishu airport, you won’t be allowed to enter into the country if you are not being picked up or have proper documentation. Due to the security situation in Somalia, they are very careful about letting visitors enter into the country without proper host details.

But, in Somaliland one only needs to produce a letter of invitation. A visa is paid for on entry which costs around $35 although the immigration officers rarely indicate the actual amount in the receipt. When you get to the immigration area, you meet one officer who assesses your letter, then refers you to another who will collect your money and give you a receipt, then the last two officers check whether the visa fee has been paid and let you into their country. Although they have all these checks and balances, one needs to be careful as they are not as transparent as they seem.

Aden Adde airport in Mogadishu

Odd Airport Points: The airports, both in Somaliland and Somalia, did not resemble anything I would call a modern airport. – and this was probably due to the wars which both countries have struggled to recover from. While checking in at Mogadishu, I was petrified, as the airport resembled a market and there wasn’t much respect for queues.

In Somaliland, the case was different except that one is required to pay an exit fee which is more than the visa fee. One pays $10 as airport handling fees, moves to another counter (2 minutes away) to pay for a $35 ‘exit fee’, then moves on to another officer who stamps your passport & verifies the receipts, and then finally proceeds to other officers who let you access the luggage belt.

Getting Around In Somalia, we never used a taxi as we were being hosted by the UN and AMISOM which also meant that we had security as well as a car.

However, in Somaliland, we got off the plane at Berbera Airport which is 3 hours away from Hargeisa. We had pre-arranged a taxi and security as this was a requirement. Along the way, there were many roadblocks (almost 30 on the 3 hours journey), and it seemed that those that had a security chase car spent less time at the checkpoints compared to those without. The cost of each security person is $20 and one needs to pay for a car for them which is fuelled and hire about 3 others.

In Mogadishu, it’s not safe for foreigners to walk around. So if you have a workshop or event, what happens is that participants come to the hotel /guest house where you’re staying, rather than you going to them. One can only walk around the AMISOM/UN protected area which is a designated zone reserved for only the international guests.

In Somaliland, it’s relatively safe and one can walk freely in Hargeisa without having to worry. The only unsafe place in Somaliland is when moving long distances like in our case from Berbera Airport to Hargeisa Town.

Most Somali’s I met understood English and they have some English Papers. Since you are required to arrange and pay for your accommodation, and sometimes also the cost of transportation, one hardly has to spend any money unless it’s for making phone calls or buying drinks for friends. I personally never used any money.

Staying in Touch Somalia and Somaliland have some fast internet as well as cheap calls. The airport in Somaliland had Wi-Fi which was really fast, and in Somalia, I was able to access internet at my guest house and also at the UN and AMISOM offices.

Map juxtaposing Somalia and Somaliland

Where to Stay: It’s quite costly in both Somalia and Somaliland and one requires around $150 per day, and in some instances, it can be more than this. The main source of power is the generator in both Somalia and Somaliland

What to Eat:  Both Somalia and Somaliland are Islamic states, and beer is not openly sold although international guests are able to access alcohol. Spaghetti and Rice is the staple food in Somalia and Somaliland.

Shopping & Sight-Seeing: In Somalia, I was able to walk around in the AMISOM and UN guarded areas but was not able to go to Mogadishu centre or meet with many locals. It’s not quite safe yet despite the presence of the AMISOM troops. I wasn’t able to go to a shopping area as it was not safe to go there. I wouldn’t know if they have one, but I saw some shops in the airport selling some touristy stuff.

Surprises about the Trip: Somalia and Somaliland both have beautiful beaches and coastlines. Also, Somali’s love poetry and they have quite a number of poets, but one may need a translator to understand the poems. 

Map image is from Wandering Trader

* The post was prepared last week before the unfortunate events in Nairobi on Sept 21, 2013.

Somalia’s Remittance Lifeline

This week in Nairobi on September 11, there was a discussion forum on the importance of remittances from the Somali diaspora to the people in Somalia and it was attended by representatives of the Rift Valley InstituteADESO, Oxfam and Dahabshil

It was held just a few weeks ahead of a September 30 deadline which Barclays Bank in the UK have set as the date that they will cut off remittances to four companies including Dahabshil and the forum was on the reasons behind that decision and the impact it will have on Somalia.  The country receives about $1.5 billion a year in remittances (with about $150M coming from the UK) – which is more than foreign aid or private investments, and these funds support 40% of the population and amount to a third of the country’s GDP. Somalia was said to have the largest number of asylum seekers in the world in relation to their population, and they are first generation immigrants with strong links to their home country – hence a higher level of remittances to reduce hardship and insecurity back home. 

The participants at the forum emphasized that the cutoff of vital remittances to Somalia was not triggered by any transgression, but rather it was a knee-jerk reaction to repeated bad news about Somalia and misunderstandings that remittances support money laundering, piracy or terrorism. Dahabshil and other Hawala-like companies have complied with all requirements set by the UK and US, and conduct due diligence in handling the remittances (which at an average of $300 to individuals are relatively small), in a country without a banking system, commercial courts and no formal identification card systems – using agents, village and clans to triangulate and ensure that money goes to the intended recipients – all without bringing in dollars to the country. Dahabshil, which the New York Times reported to have 286 locations around Somalia (compared to one for Western Union), also know that there are gaps in the system meant to weed out suspicious transactions, that they can work with the UK to fix and improve without facing the threat of closure.

Barclays is the last large UK bank facilitating these transfers to Somalia, and there was some discussion about coming to some accommodation with them such as asking them to delay the cutoff by another 12 months to allow for partner institutions to develop alternatives, as well as the possibility of partner institutions setting up a trust fund to cushion Barclays in the event that the UK authorities levy a fine for continuing to facilitate remittances to Somalia. The finality of all the Barclays decision may be resolved at a  Ministerial meeting on Monday next week in the UK or a later EU meeting in Brussels.

Kutwa Tuesday: December 31 2008

1. Yes it’s Wednesday
2. this is the final post for 2008
3. Happy New Year
4. Welcome first time readers searching online for primary school exam (KCPE) results. This is a blog on finance and investment issues in Kenya mainly
5. stories you may have missed in December 2008

– National Oil Corporation NOCK will borrow $65 million from French Bank PNB Paribas
Triton Petrol (now under receivership) has left several local and international banks exposed to bad loans. They were also partners of Reliance (India) in the second national Operator contract
– From January 2009 Kenyans can buy government bonds and bills for just Kshs. 100,000 (~$1,300) through the Central bank of Kenya. The next bill auctions are on 5th January for bills while bond are on 26th January. one must open a CDS account with the CBK (currently they hold 4,222 accounts that trade in GoK securities) more details here
– The CBK also released a report on commercial banks readiness and compliances with Basel II requirements
New branches Banks opening new branches in December were National bank of Kenya (Kakamega, Eldoret airport, Embu, Ongata rongai), Bank of Baroda (Nakuru) and CFC Stanbic (Kisumu, Westlands – Westgate)
Dyer & Blair Investment Bank will arrange a fund raising plan for TransCentury, one of Kenya’s leading Private Equity firms
Standard Chartered expected to roll out a mobile banking platform in 2009 in Kenya for funds transfer, utility payments etc. (already operational in Uganda)
Uchumi made a payment to debenture holders in December, can it re-list at the Nairobi stock exchange in 2009?
– Co-Op Bank shares began trading at the NSE – but mini bounce on day one was not sustainable

from the blogs
– Kshs. 2.5 billion worth of Equity shares trade hands in a surprisingtrade yesterday
– NIC Kenya’s leader in asset finance, but more retail and corporate has ventured into Tanzania acquiring 51% of S&F Bank – more here
– Want to buy goods online, but you don’t have a credit card – read up on Afripay – a local company that offers that service in Nairobi
– Why is it so hard for foreign (German) companies to invest in Tanzania?
– While Pirate terrorize the east African Coastline, what should be Kenya’s flagship navy vessel is rotting away in Europe.

Kutwa Tuesday – June 26

Uchumi revealed: Shedding some light on the Uchumi bond proposal, the receiver manager has stated that the problems that shut down Uchumi had more to do with management style than the market conditions. The newspaper says that the 650 million to be raised, 280 million will go to pay suppliers & creditors, 23 million interest on (bank) loans, 52m to pay terminal benefits of staff, 200m working capital as the company plans to open 3 new branches in Mombasa, Nairobi, and Kisumu.

The article adds that all suppliers have been paid for deliveries made in the last 12 months i.e. the company is profitable. The company had sales of Kshs. 1.3 billion in the first quarter of the year and had 2.8 million shoppers visit their stores. Sarit is their best store with April revenue of 90 million followed by Ngong Rd hyper with 68m (last was Eldoret with 8m) from an offline story in the financial standard.

Note: even if they re-list, won’t they be in the same boat as NBK and be unable to pay dividends for several years?

Rights Issue: Olympia’s rights issue was formally announced today with an offer for shareholders to buy 3 shares for each held.

Newspapers: New newspaper from the KISS team – called the Nairobi Star and billing itself as Kenya’s first full-color daily newspaper launches next week
– But what happened to the Kenya Times website frozen on June 8?

Trade not aid: According to an Oxfam report subsidies are responsible for poverty among African cotton farmers.

Political worm: Raila Odinga gets unfairly blamed for a lot of things, but he is not responsible for a malicious computer virus bearing his name that has caused IT admin’s some headaches this month

uh oh: Why is Obama’s campaign getting stuck?

uh oh 2: Sad to read that former track darling Marion Jones is
almost broke. Even though she wasn’t a big spender like Tyson or Jackson, legal bills fending off drug allegations have taken their toll on her finances.

Uh oh 3 & 4 : Zimbabwe to do a takeover of foreign businesses as Uganda parliamentarians have given Barclays, Sheraton, Kakira Sugar, and Uganda Telecom one year to float part of their share on the Uganda stock exchange.

War what is it good for? Is there a difference between Somalia, Darfur and Palestine?