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Executive Summary

The Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) welcomes foreign direct investment and offers a variety of opportunities for investment, especially in natural resources and agriculture, but remains a difficult place to do business.  The government’s collapse in 1991 led to a period of conflict and clan warfare.  While there has been some progress since the establishment of the FGS in 2012, potential investors still face challenges such as the lack of a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework, a civil judicial system incapable of solving disputes and enforcing contracts, and endemic corruption.  Investors also face threats from the al-Shabaab terrorist group, which controls portions of the country and routinely extorts taxes from businesses.  Businesses also face challenges moving money into and out of Somalia, enforcing protection of intellectual property, and maintaining access to inexpensive and reliable electricity.

The current government was elected in 2017 and has pursued a policy of economic reforms that broadened the government’s tax base and strengthened tax administration, resulting in steady increases in domestic revenue for the first time in two decades.  These reforms enabled Somalia to re-engage international financial institutions and, in March 2020, the IMF and the World Bank approved Somalia’s eligibility for debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.  If Somalia takes the additional steps required to reach “Completion Point,” the final stage of debt relief, the country’s total external debt will be reduced from $5.2 billion to $557 million, or nine percent of GDP.

Somalia’s economy is rebounding from the “triple shock” that ravaged the country in 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme flooding, and the locust infestation. GDP grew at two percent in 2021, mostly due to household consumption driven by increased remittances, as well as new export markets for goods.  It could expand by an estimated 3.2 percent in 2022 if political challenges are resolved, according to the IMF.

Low human development indicators, expensive and unreliable electricity, poor roads, a lack of reliable internet access (especially outside urban areas), and pervasive government corruption constrain investment and development. Moving money into and out of Somalia remains difficult, and the financial sector is constrained by the lack of private sector correspondent banking relationships.  The main obstacles are weak “know your customer” (KYC) capabilities and concerns that al-Shabaab is using Somalia’s financial institutions to collect, store, and move money.  To address these concerns, the Financial Reporting Center (FRC), Somalia’s financial investigation body, hired its first investigators in 2019 and is slowly improving its capabilities to investigate illegal transactions.  Additionally, the Central Bank of Somalia (CBS) is becoming increasingly professional and asserting its jurisdiction over additional financial activities, such as mobile money.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 178 of 180
Global Innovation Index 2021 N/A
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2021 N/A
World Bank GNI per capita 2021 N/A

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

The FGS and the Federal Member States (FMS) have a positive attitude towards foreign direct investment (FDI) and describe Somalia as “open for business.”  However, insecurity and uncertainty driven by terrorist groups, lack of transparency, failure to fully constitute governing bodies per the 2012 provisional constitution, and widespread corruption in government sectors present considerable barriers to FDI.

Parliament passed a foreign investment law in 2015 to promote and protect foreign investment.  The law also provides some incentives to foreign investors, such as tax advantages and guarantees against expropriation. The FGS lacks the capacity to fully enforce these laws. Administration of tax laws across the FMS is not uniform and is inconsistent.

In September 2020, Somalia’s investment promotion authority (SOMINVEST) released a five-year  National Investment Promotion Strategy , which aims to improve Somalia’s image abroad.  The strategy paints a rosy picture of doing business in Somalia, highlighting agriculture, fishing, energy, infrastructure, and banking as keys areas ripe for FDI.

The Somalia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) prioritizes investment retention and maintains an ongoing dialogue with investors. SCCI safeguards business interests, liaises with government officials on behalf of investors, and engages with civil society, local media, and the press.

There are no laws that address private ownership rights or limit foreign control. There has not yet been a third-party investment review of Somalia. The FGS is an observer to the World Trade Organization. The FGS is not a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In 2017, Somalia submitted a notification of intent to join the WTO. After working through the accession stages in May 2020, Somalia submitted a Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime, a document that outlines its trade and economic policies and its trade agreements with other countries.  In October 2020, the WTO confirmed Somalia’s Working Party chairperson, Swedish Ambassador to the WTO Mikael Anzen, and was planning the first Working Party meeting for mid-2021. The engagements were put on hold as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and have continued on hold due to political instability.

The FGS rejoined the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa in July 2018.  As a member, Somalia is required to undertake several institutional, policy, and regulatory reforms to meet the organization’s free trade protocols.

The FGS has also applied for East African Community (EAC) membership, which would allow Somalia to formalize trade with its neighbors and facilitate movement of Somali citizens to other EAC member states through acquisition of the common EAC passport.  However, at the February 2021 Heads of State Summit, the EAC found that Somalia’s application was not yet ready for a decision.

Somalia has also indicated its intent to participate in negotiations on the African Continent Free Trade Agreement.

In 2019, the FGS passed a company law formalizing the legal requirements to create and register a company.  On March 30, 2022, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry officially launched the Somali Business Registration System (SBRS), which will serve as a “one-stop shop” business registration website to streamline licensing approvals and reduce corruption.

The World Bank ranked Somalia 190 of 190 countries in its 2020 Ease of Doing Business Report. In 2021, the World Bank discontinued producing the Ease of Doing Business report, due to several limitations/shortcoming identified in the tool’s accuracy in assessing a country’s business/investment climates. USAID is now working with the World Bank to develop a new methodology.

In 2019, the FGS passed a company law formalizing the legal requirements to create and register a company.  On January 27, 2021, the FGS Ministry of Commerce issued a supplementary regulation (001/2021) to support enforcement of the company law. Regulation 001/2021 established the Office of the Registrar of Companies, defined its roles/functions, and set the requirements and processes for business registration, licensing fees, and penalties. Because of this regulation, the new Somali Business Registration System (SBRS) was established.

3. Legal Regime

Somalia’s regulatory system is largely nonexistent.  The 2012 provisional constitution has not been finalized, and there is not yet a constitutional court to enforce it.  Many of the current investment laws and regulations predate the 1991 government collapse.  The FGS has revised some of these regulations and has begun to develop modern business and investment legislation to conform to the global business environment, but it has a long way to go.  Somalia has a procurement act that is intended to provide for transparency in public contracts and concessions, but it is not always followed.  In 2020, the FGS passed a petroleum law that provides a regulatory framework for issuing exploration and development licenses.

Somalia is a member of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, as well as the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.  In 2018, Somalia obtained provisional membership in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, but it has several conditions to fulfill before achieving full membership. Somalia is an observer, but not yet a member, of the WTO.

Somalia’s legal system derives from Italian and British law, customary dispute resolution (xeer) principles, and Islamic law.  The provisional constitution establishes a judicial system that is theoretically independent of the executive and the legislature, but in practice the legal system depends on the executive.  There are no courts dedicated to commercial disputes.  A November 2020 USAID-funded report found that the courts lack political independence, are marked by “pervasive graft,” and face competition from a parallel al-Shabaab court system.  There are reports that some citizens choose to bring cases to al-Shabaab courts, finding them less corrupt than government courts.

Somalia’s 2015 foreign investment law provides some guidance for foreign investors, but a comprehensive investor and investment bill remains stuck in parliament.  In 2019, the Ministry of Planning opened its investment promotion office,  SOMINVEST , to provide potential investors with guidance on investing in Somalia.

Competition and anti-trust laws do not exist in Somalia.  Local business disputes often are informally settled through the intervention of traditional elders.

Somalia is rebuilding from decades of civil war, and its legal and regulatory environment remains undeveloped.  There are no laws that define how the government can expropriate private property.  However, the provisional constitution provides a right to just compensation from the government if property has been compulsorily acquired in the public interest.  After the 1991 government collapse, many state-owned properties ended up in private hands, and the FGS has indicated interest in repossessing these properties.  There is a draft investor protection bill in parliament that will address expropriation, dispute resolution, and the transfer and repatriation of investments.

Somalia does not have any bankruptcy laws.

4. Industrial Policies

The 2015 foreign investment law provides some investment incentives, such as tax benefits, to foreign investors.  The government does not issue grants or jointly finance foreign direct investment projects, but the FGS informally uses ad hoc tax exemptions and revenue sharing agreements to attract investment.  The director of revenue at the Ministry of Finance has authority to grant tax exemptions, but in practice line ministers and the prime minister have offered tax exemptions to foreign investors.  SOMINVEST is developing a national investment incentive framework.

There are no laws or policies that designate any area as a free trade zone or as an area with special tax treatment.  Pursuant to an agreement signed in December 2019, a free trade zone dubbed the Berbera Economic Free Zone is under development in the Somaliland region, funded jointly by the Somaliland government, the UK, and UAE-based Dubai Ports World.

The FGS does not require foreign companies to only employ local staff.  There are no laws inhibiting foreign investors or foreign employees.  Few foreign companies operate in Somalia, and most of them are based within the secure compound surrounding Mogadishu’s international airport.  Most of these companies are under contract to the FGS or an international organization to undertake infrastructure and security-related projects.  Some, such as hotels, are in the service sector.  Foreign companies may contract with foreign employees with specific skillsets not locally available and can obtain entry visas for these employees.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Somali laws relating to land are complex and include customary rules and traditions used by Somalia’s clan-based society, Western-style laws from the colonial period, remnants of the pre-1991 authoritarian rule, and Islamic law and tradition.  While there have been no federal efforts to catalogue property ownership and title land, some FMS have tried to document land ownership for the purposes of taxation.  In addition, land within the major cities, including Mogadishu, is generally documented for taxation purposes.  There are no specific regulations regarding land leases or acquisition by foreign investors.

When the government collapsed in 1991, there was widespread conflict over land, land-grabbing by warlords, and displacement of local populations, especially in southern Somalia.  As a result, fraudulent titles and land disputes are common.  A former government official moved all records of pre-1991 property registrations outside the country.  Requests to verify titles registered before 1991 therefore take a month to be processed and cost between $1,000 and $2,000.  For properties registered more recently, records may be available in the official bulletin.  Lawyers charge approximately $50 to verify a title’s authenticity.

Somaliland has a more advanced land title framework and dispute mechanism.  The Somaliland legal framework addresses urban land management, agricultural land ownership, urban land dispute resolution, and civil procedures for hearing property disputes.

There are no laws protecting or enforcing intellectual property (IP).  The cabinet approved a new IP law in 2019, but parliament has not yet approved it.  The FGS passed a law on standardization and quality control in March 2020 that provides for the creation of the Somalia Bureau of Standards as the enforcement authority for quality control.  Although there are no official reports on seizures of counterfeit goods, it is widely believed that many goods entering Somalia are counterfeit.  The government has no capacity to seize or track counterfeit goods entering the country.  For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see the World Intellectual Property Organization’s  country profiles .

6. Financial Sector

Somalia has no structured financial system and does not have portfolio investment financial products in the market.  Somalia does not issue government bonds or corporate bonds.  There is one private  stock exchange  operating in Somalia, but the government has no authority to regulate trade in stocks and securities.

Somalia’s banking system has yet to recover from years of conflict.  Moving money into and around the country through traditional banking mechanisms is difficult.  The Somali shilling lacks legitimacy, as it has not been printed since 1991, and more than 98 percent of the bills in circulation are counterfeit, printed by warlords and rogue business owners.  Consequently, much of the Somali economy relies on the U.S. dollar.

Since the FGS reestablished the Central Bank of Somalia (CBS) in 2009, it has been slowly developing the tools and capabilities to oversee licensing and supervision of commercial banks and money transfer businesses.  The CBS has issued licenses to 10 banks and seven informal money transfer systems known as hawalas.  A 2019 anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism law requires enhanced KYC controls and created the government’s financial investigation unit, the Financial Reporting Center. Nevertheless, a 2020 UN report found that al-Shabaab moves millions of dollars through the formal banking system, which keeps Somalia’s financial risk profile high.  Somalia’s banks are also stymied by the lack of any national identification, which creates challenges in verifying client identity.

Only 15 percent of Somalis have formal bank accounts due to a lack of branches in many towns and the difficulty of obtaining acceptable forms of identification to open accounts.  Mobile finance therefore plays an important role in the economy.  Mobile money platforms have been essentially unregulated since their introduction in 2012.  In February 2021, the CBS issued its first mobile money license.

There is no publicly available data regarding the assets of privately owned banks.  No foreign banks operate in Somalia.

There are no sovereign wealth funds or any other state-owned investment fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Somalia does not have any fully or partially state-owned enterprises.

Since the government does not own any business entities, there are no entities to privatize.  The World Bank has supported the development of a public-private partnership law, but parliament has not yet acted on it.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There are no laws or regulations addressing corporate social responsibility or responsible business conduct.

9. Corruption

The provisional constitution criminalizes several forms of corruption such as abuse of office, embezzlement of funds, and bribery. The FGS enacted an anti-corruption bill in September 2019 that provides for the formation of an independent anti-corruption commission at both federal and state levels called the Somalia Independent Anti-Corruption Commission. The commission is now operational, with officers elected in May 2021.  Somalia’s procurement laws have provisions to address potential conflicts of interest in awarding government contracts, but enforcement is lax. Corruption is rampant in all sectors of government, particularly government procurement. Transparency International ranked Somalia 178 of 180 countries in its 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index.

For the past several years, the FGS has waged a campaign against public corruption and graft, resulting in several high-profile dismissals and arrests.  For example, in August 2020 a court convicted four senior Ministry of Health officials of embezzling funds intended to address the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, without a robust asset declaration mechanism, an updated penal code, and a functioning criminal justice system, anti-corruption efforts remain ad hoc, and there is little deterrence.

Procurement laws require all government contracts to go through an open tender process unless they meet specified conditions for limited competition.  However, the FGS has not put the relevant procedures in place, and in practice the FGS still awards lucrative contracts based on close relationships and favors.  Moreover, the FGS has not yet established a procurement board as required by law, which further stifles attempts to ensure transparency and accountability in government procurement activities.  An interim  procurement board  exists, but it meets irregularly.

10. Political and Security Environment

Somalia has a long history of political and clan-based violence, which destroyed the basic state institutions that support eco/nomic development.  Most of Somalia’s infrastructure was destroyed during 30 years of civil war and violence.  There are pockets of stability, but Somalia remains an insecure environment.  Attacks by al-Shabaab, clan-based militias, and others affect individuals and businesses throughout the country, often with loss of life.  The U.S. Department of State advises U.S. citizens against traveling to Somalia due to crime, terrorism, and civil unrest.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The law provides for the right of every worker to form and join a trade union, participate in the activities of a trade union, conduct legal strikes, and engage in collective bargaining. No specific legal restrictions exist that limit these rights. The law does not address anti-union discrimination, or the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Legal protections did not exclude any specific group of workers.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations and were seldom applied. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs hired and trained labor inspectors during the year, but as of December, no inspections had been conducted.

Somalia is emerging from three decades of political instability and economic hardship that destroyed government institutions, leaving little data on the status of the current labor market.  According to UNICEF statistics from 2017, 75 percent of the population is under the age of 30, and 67 percent of youth are unemployed.  There is a mismatch between the skills youth possess and the requirements of the labor market.  In 2020, the International Labor Organization (ILO) finalized its survey of Somalia’s labor force, finding that most labor is unskilled and that most Somalis work in the informal sector or in agriculture.

Some international partners implement projects to improve vocational training, but these reach a small portion of the workforce and most of the skills offered by technical and vocational training institutions do not match the needs of the local labor markets.  Private sector entities, such as the major telecommunications companies, maintain their own training programs to meet the needs of their workforce. Somalia does not have a formal labor or employment policy that would restrict the hiring of foreigners. Somalia has drafted a modern labor code, but it has yet to be enacted.  In February 2020, the FGS released a social safety net policy.

Conflicts between the government and labor unions resulted in a formal complaint to the ILO in 2018.  Since the complaint’s filing, the government has stopped limiting labor unions’ activities and has worked cooperatively with the labor union umbrella organization to draft labor policies and codes.

The ILO established an office in Mogadishu in 2018 to address the significant gaps between Somalia’s labor practices and international standards. With ILO and labor union support, in February 2019 the government finalized a draft employment policy, which the cabinet approved.

14. Contact for More Information

Lilieth Whyte
Economic Officer
US Embassy Mogadishu

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