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Last Updated: Monday, 19 December 2005, 14:17 GMT
Somalis cash in on Dubai boom
Daniel Dickinson
BBC, Dubai

A modern city at an ancient trading crossroads
Skyscrapers reach high into the desert sky, while sailing dhows ply the Gulf trading with countries as they have for hundreds of years.

Dubai is a boom-time city full of contrasts.

Ancient souks or markets crowd the streets of the city centre while all around is the noise of building sites, where new shopping malls and office blocks are being put up at a dizzying rate.

Although Dubai has a little oil, its wealth has been largely built on its emergence as a duty-free trading centre for the Middle East and Africa.

Somalia has no security, no bank facilities, there is no central government - that's why more Somali businesses are running their operations from Dubai
Osman Abdi Hassan, airline boss
Because the indigenous population is so small, expatriates and especially African expatriates have played a major role.

The largest African community in Dubai is the Somalis, driven out of their home by years of unrest.

Somali businesses line the streets of the city centre, Deira; internet cafes, hotels, coffee shops, restaurant and import-export businesses are testimony to the Somalis' entrepreneurial spirit.

Star African Air is one of three Somali-owned airlines which have headquarters in Dubai rather than in Somalia.


The chairman, Osman Abdi Hassan, says it does not make business sense to run an airline from Mogadishu.

Somalis flock to Dubai in search of jobs
"There is no security, there are no bank facilities, there is no central government," he says.

"That's why more Somali businesses are running their operations from Dubai."

When the Star African Air planes land at airports in Somalia, the airline has to provide its own fuel, cleaners, passenger check-in, baggage handlers and security staff to guard the plane.

Dubai can provide everything that Somalia cannot.

The success of Somalis in Dubai is good news for Dubai, but bad news for Somalia according to Sharif Hamad, the chairman of the Somali business council in Dubai.

Somalia's loss

This long-time resident of the United Arab Emirates says Somalia is losing out as a result of having so many businesses based outside the country.

Osman Abdi Hassan
Osman Abdi Hassan finds in Dubai the facilities that Somalia lacks
"It's difficult to quantify just how much money and job opportunities Somalia is losing every year as a result of having so many businesses here - but it's probably millions of dollars and thousands of jobs," he says.

If the political and economic situation in Somalia fails to improve, then companies like Star African Air will stay in Dubai.

Yet Sharif Hamad says many could return in the future: "The Somalis love their country and want to do business there. If the country is stable many businesses will relocate back home."


Meanwhile, more and more Somalis are arriving in Dubai in search of work, but not always succeeding.

Unemployed Somali men meet daily at the Ali Maimona Star Cafeteria in the centre of Dubai's souk area to drink sweet black tea.

One of them, Mubarak Ahmed, says only Somalis with money to establish their own business can prosper here: "You need a lot of money to start a company, so it's only rich Somalis who can do this. If you are poor and have no job, then it's difficult to live here. It is expensive and you get no support from the authorities."

Mubarak Ahmed is now planning to return to Somalia, to set up an import business based in Mogadishu.

And of course, the goods will come from Dubai, reinforcing the trading and business links between the two cities.

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