Intrepid Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs everywhere need almost a blind optimism in their vision or they probably would never undertake the investment in the first place.  In Somalia, though, this is probably even more true. While entrepreneurship is crucial to a Somalian economic recovery, it is not for the faint of heart.

The New York Times had a great piece in the magazine called Somalia’s somewhat friendly skies. Not surprisingly, the roads in the country are either of very poor quality or non-existent: “Somalia has only a handful of passable roads — and most of those are patrolled by bandits and militias.” 

So what does an enterprising young entrepreneur do?  Start an airline of course:



I love the optimism of the tagline:  the happy way to fly.  Some beg to disagree:

“One passenger described one of Jubba’s Antonovs as a piece of “Soviet dereliction” in which a family of five sat piled into three seats. “We had to board an old Russian plane. In total darkness,” an online reviewer wrote of his “flight from hell” to Hargeisa, the capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland. “The seats had no seat belts, there are luggage and 20 boxes on back seats, not secured. . . . Avoid by all costs.”

The founder of Jubba notes that all planes have seat belts now and that this negative review is probably from a Somalian rival airline (!).

There have been some tough times for Jubba Air and its employees (see some salient examples below) but if Somalia does turn around, they are well placed to take advantage of the good times.

a. “Whenever we fly to Mogadishu, we give them combat pay,” Warsame said. “And they never stay. They land and leave as fast as they can.” Jubba pays the captain, co-pilot and flight attendants “around $100 extra” for each landing they make in Mogadishu; the bonus goes up after they make the trip several dozen times. [Note: $100 doesn’t seem like much in combat pay and I don’t understand the reasoning behind the bonus going up after 24 landings].

b. “Until late 2011, Al Shabaab controlled 9 of 16 districts in Mogadishu, some within firing range of Aden Abdulle International Airport. Pilots were instructed to ascend & descend rapidly over the ocean, and to avoid flying at low altitudes over the warrens of the city. The rebels have since been mostly driven out, but pilots still perform the same maneuver.”

c. “Domestically, Jubba has inaugurated Antonov flights to Baidoa, a central Somalian town known as “the City of Death” during the devastating famine of the early 1990s; and Kismayu, a strategic southern port held by Al Shabaab until last November, when Kenyan AMISOM troops drove out the militiamen. Kismayu is still unstable, with two clans feuding violently for control of the port’s lucrative charcoal trade. But Warsame said that the demand for access to the city was so high that Jubba decided to take the risk. “It is impossible for people to travel there by road, because of explosive devices and ambushes,” he told me. “So many people said, ‘We need a flight to Kismayu.’ We sent in some staff, they inspected the runway, they talked to the local people and they said it was O.K.” [Note: the local people saying it was ok would probably not be enough to convince me to fly there]

Whether you are an airline entrepreneur or an airline customer, Somalia is definitely not for the faint of heart.

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