I returned to Somalia, the country of my birth, in early 2010 to help rebuild a country affected by a decades-long conflict.
11 years on, the future is bright. Living standards have risen as people join the workforce, not the army. International rebuilding programmes – which I was fortunate to work on – have helped improved good governance. And a steady influx of cash from Somalia’s diaspora provides the capital needed to kick-start local businesses.
With the security situation improving, an outsider’s view would understandably be that need for private security has fallen. In fact, the opposite is true. As regional players like the AU gradually lower their troop presence, the need for private actors to fill the vacuum grows by the day.
As in other conflict zones, peacekeepers are now re-focusing their mission building local capacity versus boots on the ground. The same is happening in Somalia. This is where another opportunity arises: to supply the facilities, vehicles and other services for foreign players. One example is that the EU is looking to expand its Training Mission in-country.
But how does one land these allusive contracts? There are many factors, but one is non-negotiable: having an on-the-ground presence. Someone to connect the dots, identify the opportunities first and fast, while taking into account the challenges and risks. This is the crucial difference between landing a deal or missing out.
The security network in Somalia is small and notoriously hard to penetrate. It takes many years to build the connections that can lead you to being tipped off about upcoming contracts. Having a strong local presence is therefore the difference between success and failure.