Interview with Abdullahi Ali, Chairman and CEO of Simba Investments and member of the Somalia National Alliance Party (SNAP)
Please could you introduce yourself to our audience?
My name is Abdullahi Ali. I am a businessman who has been working in Kenya for the past 35 years. I have been involved in different ventures, especially relating to the pharmaceutical field. I make and import pharmaceutical products from various countries. I also work with tanneries and hide skin, which we export to China. I am involved with a telecommunications company which is an international gateway allowing us to deal across several countries, from Kenya all the way to Mozambique. We also deal with NGOs, who we try to assist in their work with poor people, as well as African Cross-Cultural Communication. Those companies are Simba Investments, which is a large corporation whose main focus is investment in the energy sector, and solar in particular. We call this green energy, and today Africa is in demand when it comes to energy. Simba Pharmaceuticals is the country's second largest company, and we have different branches in East and Central Africa. This is essentially what we do.
Could you give us an overview of the sectors you just mentioned?
In terms of the energy sector, we have secured a solar energy project in Somalia, which is close to 150 megawatts. We are currently taking this forward and we have already signed a contract. We will be looking to replicate this in different regions in Somalia.
We have also opened up in Uganda and Tanzania on the pharmaceutical front. Africa has long suffered from counterfeit products, and we take it upon ourselves to introduce good quality pharmaceutical products sold at a very low price, which in some cases we subsidise, and we ask manufacturers to give us a good price.
Our main efforts currently revolve around these two projects, and God-willing, we will finally succeed.
And what are your business plans over the next few years? Are you looking to launch any new ventures?
In fact, we are looking to upgrade the telecommunications sector, because the tariffs it offers are extremely expensive. When we talk about the East African Community and the COMESA, in southern African regions, telecommunications tariffs are very hard to deal with, as people cannot even afford to communicate, whether through voice or directly via the internet, given the high costs involved. Therefore, we lobby the government to reducing these costs, so as to allow people to actually communicate, thereby creating more business and more employment in the telecoms industry. This is where we have our sights set for the future.
You are also active in politics. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
Yes. I would like to put myself on a footing in Somalia, because the country has been suffering for over 25 years, as a result of religious conflict, warlords, pirates, etc. We are looking to put forward great efforts that principally involve myself, which would mean leaving the business and getting involved in the political fight in Somalia. I wish to become a leader for reform, especially in providing security for women and kids in Somalia, who are suffering a great deal. We would also like to introduce economic reforms, in addition to those relating to the security sector. There are many reforms I wish to implement directly in Somalia. Other reforms I am very much interested in are gender-based reforms, because there are a great number of educated women at a very senior level who currently cannot get a chance in Somalia. I am looking to provide them with that chance, so this is foremost in my reform agenda.
Why should people vote for you?
That's a good question. The reason why am asking people to vote for me is that all the candidates who are currently campaigning are either former ministers, prime ministers or presidents, and we have seen how they run the country. This is why I have more chances than anyone else.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Yes, I would like to bring the issue of insecurity to the fore, especially in the case of East Africa and particularly with regard to extremism. Many people believe that Somalia is rife with extremism and that this is directly connected to the religion. But I would like to emphasise that 99.9% of Somalian people are not extremist, to be honest. We are absolutely civilised, and extremism has seen a chance and has drawn attention solely as a result of the chaos. We wish to change Somalia's face in this respect.
If you were to pass on a message to our international business audience, considering Kenya or Somalia as business and investment destinations, what would you say are the strengths of these two countries? Why should they be considered?
I think that the reason they are worthy of consideration is that Kenya is a hub, when it comes to East and Central Africa, while Somalia is strategically located on the horn of Africa, which is very interesting. Kenya's economic strength in East Africa is clear. In terms of business, Kenya is the largest economy in the region. Without peace in Somalia, it would be difficult for business to prosper in Kenya. Sanity must be brought back to Somalia, which is why efforts are being encouraged in that direction.