Newsletter No 7 22 November 2005
 
Financial Management:
Surviving in Somalia

Two years ago, the Warsan newspaper was launched in the worst environment one can imagine: a country dominated by warlords, with no government, and without one single printing press – Somalia. Against all odds, Warsan has managed to survive and grow.

“The newspaper has encountered various obstacles in production, distribution, human resources, marketing and advertising. Taking into account that the project was started by a group of businessmen, more concerted effort is required than the founders can provide,” says Noor Elmi, founder, managing director and editor-in-chief of the Warsan newspaper.

Despite the obstacles, the paper has achieved remarkable success since its launch in 2003. “We started off with a small-scale circulation in Mogadishu. Then we spread our wings to the other big towns in Somalia, the neighboring countries and the African Diaspora. Initially we printed 2,000 copies, a figure that has increased to 10,000. Because of the situation we are in as a country, our people are in thirst of information. Since print media is the second most popular source of information after radio, and since most of the population cannot access the Internet, our paper is always in demand,” says Elmi.

“The idea of launching the paper was based on a long study on the socio-economic and political situation in our country following the collapse of Somalia's central government. We came to understand that the warlords who destroyed this nation cannot, and will not, create a new government,” says Elmi.

The Warsan newspaper has a political role to play for the future of Somalia, he says. “We have a vision of a grand new Somalia, where peace is fostered and nurtured by all, where there is a well-functioning government and where international and individual efforts succeed.”

But to succeed, the newspaper must survive as a business. This is a real challenge. “To launch the newspaper, I brought together a group of Somali businessmen who shared my vision of the country. The paper has been getting financial assistance from this group, which is contributing as much it they can. Nevertheless, a much greater effort is required to set up a printing press, for instance.”

In the beginning, Warsan was “printed” on a photocopier. Elmi, who had already run photocopied newspapers, soon decided that this had to change. “After five or six months we realized that we could not continue with such low printing standards if we wanted to gain money. We had no advertisers, and we needed them – both from Somalia and from the neighboring countries. Therefore, we moved the editorial and management sections to Nairobi, Kenya where we also rented a printing press.”

The improved printing quality attracted some advertisers, even though ads currently represent just 5 percent of the newspaper’s revenue. “Increasing the quality of the newspaper has attracted some advertisers. However, we are moving slowly. The advertisers we are trying to attract are Kenyans, whose products are sold in Somalia. It is difficult to convince them to advertise in Warsan. In order to attract them we offer lower rates than they would find in Kenyan newspapers. We also try to explain that although Somalia is a country in crisis, the business sector seems to be developing well and that all the goods that are currently imported to Somalia from South East Asia could be purchased from Kenyans.”

Another issue is the language. “Since our newspaper is published in Somali, it is difficult to find people in Kenya with the necessary language skills to work with us.”

Distribution has been another obstacle for two main reasons: the lack of transportation and security conditions. “Bringing the paper into Somalia used to be our biggest problem, but today we have an agreement with an airline that brings them in twice weekly. They bring Warsan to Mogadishu and in return they can advertise for free in the paper. Once in Somalia, we have to rely on local transportation to the main towns. Once the newspaper get there, we have agents that carry the papers to their final destinations.”

About ninety percent of the readers are subscribers. “Subscriptions are our main source of revenue. In order to attract subscribers we offer reductions to, for example, students, women associations and universities. We even send copies to the USA and Canada, where there is an important Somali community” says Elmi.

Despite the difficulties Warsan faces, Elmi remains optimistic. “I am very confident about the future of the newspaper if we only get the necessary investment from the international community. We do not only need a printing press, but also training in journalistic skills and management, myself included. I graduated from university in 1984 and I ought to update my knowledge. I would love to go to conferences abroad for publishers and media marketers but we cannot afford it.”

Elmi has already made efforts to get financial support from the international community. “We tried to get funds from the international community, especially from those institutions working in Somalia. But we did not get anything. We found it to be very difficult to convince international organizations present in Somalia.”

Facts about the newspaper
Warsan is a bi-weekly newspaper. At the launch it was published fortnightly. The paper is printed on eight pages in broadsheet format and costs 3,000 Somali shillings (about 0.25 US $). The editorial, commercial and management sections altogether employ ten people.

Besides socio-economic and political issues, the newspaper also raises key issues in the Somali society, such as poverty, HIV/AIDS, ethnic conflicts, environment and trafficking.