By AHMED OSMA Special Correspondent
Posted Saturday, February 22 2014 at 16:13
Osman Ali, the owner of an electronics shop in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, has been hard-hit since Al Shabaab forced the biggest telecoms company to switch off its mobile Internet service in the Horn of Africa nation.
“I don’t understand why the government has not done anything to deal with the situation. It could at least find an alternative for the people. This has thrown the country into darkness. We are left behind,” Ali said from his shop, explaining that his sales had dropped dramatically since the shutdown.
In January, Al Shabaab issued a 15-day ultimatum to local giant, Hormuud Telecom, to stop providing mobile Internet and fibre optic services because it said they were used by Western spy agencies to collect information on Muslims.
Hormuud officials said company staff were forced “at gun point” by Al Shabaab fighters to switch off the mobile Internet service.
According to the Internet World Stats website, more than 125,000 of the country’s 10 million people use the Internet in Somalia.
Tens of thousands of people who relied on Hormuud’s services have been unable to access the Internet on their mobile phones from February 6. However, fixed broadband services are still available.
Hormuud, which claims to be the market leader in south and central Somalia, “with over 60 per cent of market share in both mobile and broadband services,” has not officially commented on the ban.
The company has switched off the service not only to areas controlled by Al Shabaab but across the centre of the country and in Mogadishu. However, the ban has not affected the northeastern region of Puntland and the breakaway “country” of Somaliland where separate mobile networks operate.
Although officials have condemned the move, the government has faced widespread criticism for its “inaction.” Following the news of the group’s ultimatum, in a statement on January 11, the then interior minister Abdikarim Hussein Guled condemned the ban and cautioned companies against co-operating with the militants.
But local social media has been awash with criticism of the government, saying that if it had at least provided enough security to local companies it would have had the authority to order the continuation of their services.