Somaliland wants to be a trading hub. Here are the problems

..and the potential.

Somaliland, a semi-desert territory on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, has set its sights on becoming a regional trading hub for the Horn of Africa. Though not internationally recognised, Somaliland’s "autonomous" status has insulated it from the turmoil that has subsumed Somali for the past two decades. It has a functioning political system, government institutions, its own currency and relatively low levels of political violence.

At the heart of its economic potential is the port of Berbera, used as an import and export hub by landlocked Ethiopia. Its two airports have undergone a USD 10 million Kuwaiti funded makeover which Somaliland hopes will be the start of efforts to develop its infrastructure, creating the potential for it to augment its position as an alternative trade corridor to Djibouti for Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s USD 43bn economy, while largely closed to the outside world, is growing by 7 per cent a year and the country is keen to develop coffee and leather manufacturing exports.

The need for enhanced infrastructure in the region is demonstrated by persistent bottlenecks at ports in Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Djibouti. The appalling condition of the Mombasa road linking the port with the rest of Kenya and the countries of the interior exacerbates the backlog.

Ethiopia’s over reliance on one trade corridor through Djibouti leaves the country vulnerable to fluctuations in its relationship with its trade partner, thereby compromising its ability to effectively manage the political economy of trade logistics. The World Bank has encouraged Addis Ababa to develop transport routes through Somaliland to diversify its options and improve its negotiating position with transit corridors.

Infrastructure development will provide a boost to Somaliland’s fledgling natural resources sector. Sharing the similar geology to the oil rich Gulf states, Somaliland and neighbouring Puntland, offer attractive prospecting opportunities for oil & gas companies. Canadian-listed Africa Oil Corp and Anglo-Turkish oil company Genel Energy, have signed contracts with the semi-autonomous governments and are exploring in the region.

In a situation similar to the standoff between Baghdad and Kirkuk, the activities of international oil companies have sparked controversy over which authorities have the right to issue exploration licences. Following the presidential election in Somalia in 2012, Somalia authorities are reasserting their claim that the issuing of such licences falls solely within the remit of the federal government.

The Somali constitution gives considerable autonomy to regional governments to enter into commercial contracts for oil deals, while a petroleum law, not yet adopted by parliament is being invoked by federal officials in Mogadishu to claim that the central government can distribute natural resources contracts.

The seeds of this controversy dates back to the 1991 overthrow of a dictator that plunged Somalia into two decades of violent turmoil, first at the hands of clan warlords and then Islamist militants, creating a political vacuum in which two semi-autonomous regions - Puntland and Somaliland – emerged in northern Somalia.

Multinational oil companies with licences to explore Somalia prior to 1991 have since seen Somaliland and Puntland grant their own licences for the same blocks. At present the federal government is too weak to press its claim and is unlikely to remain so into the medium term. Any concerted effort to force Somaliland and Puntland to rescind contracts has the potential to provoke violent clashes between armed groups and the security forces in the territories.

Activity by a range of investors in infrastructure development and oil & gas exploration is indicative of the potential to be unlocked in even the most challenging territories. With appropriate insurance coverages providing balance sheet protection against the challenges posed by unpredictable government action and the threat of political violence, opportunities abound for the intrepid investor.

Photograph: Getty Images

JLT Head of Credit & Political Risk Advisory

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.