The world’s first cashless country just might be in Africa

Somaliland is officially an autonomous region of Somalia with a population of just 3.5 million, mainly Muslim. In practice, though, it is an unrecognized, self-declared state. The territory, previously a British protectorate, united with the former Italian Somaliland in 1960 to form Somalia. The region declared independence from Somalia in 1991, after massacres carried out by the regime of Siad Barre. Tens of thousands were killed and entire towns were destroyed.

The government of Somaliland is now in active diplomatic discussions with neighbouring countries and the African Union, trying to get international support in its secessionist aspirations and recognition of its independence. No country in the world today recognizes Somaliland and of course this means, among other things, there is a total lack of outside investment. Despite this, it has a dynamic private sector, although poverty and unemployment are still widespread. It is a land rich in history and has important archeological treasures. It has its own president, parliament and constitution, army and police force.

Somaliland even has its own central bank that prints its own currency, the Somaliland shilling. The highest banknote in Somaliland, however, is the 5,000 shilling note, which is worth less than a dollar. This makes transactions incredibly impractical. Khat, a flowering plant and an amphetamine-like stimulant is used almost as currency in many places.

Zaad, a mobile money-transfer service offered by Telesom, the largest network operator in the territory, may prove to be the solution to the cumbersome shilling system. As in many other countries of Africa, the mobile sector is thriving here, with about 40% of the population having a phone.


About 306,000 Somalilanders today use Zaad. In a place with no ATMs and where credit cards are considered ridiculous, Zaad has been widely adopted by shops, market stalls, restaurants and hotels, despite it being considered un-Islamic by some radical groups. Telesom, the phone company, even pays its employees via Zaad.

Normally only payments of up to $500 at a time are allowed, $2,000 for merchants. The system is still not perfect, because it evades taxation, something the government wants to correct, but the inventiveness and dynamism of the private sector approach has provided the market with an appropriate means of exchange. So the world’s first cashless country may not be Sweden, the Netherlands or South Korea, after all, it may actually be Somaliland.

African Heavy Metal

Botswana is a landlocked country, surrounded by South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Slightly smaller than Texas, and with just over 2 million people, it is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. It is mostly flat and 70% of it is covered by the Kalahari Desert.

It can boast four decades of uninterrupted civilian leadership, and its progressive social policies, and significant capital investment have resulted in one of the most dynamic and fastest growing economies in Africa. In fact, according to the IMF, economic growth averaged in Botswana over 9% per year from 1966 to 1999- and its banking system is one of the continent’s most advanced.

It does have the second highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world, but it also has one of Africa’s most advanced and serious programs for dealing with the disease. The mineral industry is reponsible for about 40% of all government revenues. It is rich in diamonds, oil, gold, uranium, copper.

It is also rich in heavy metals. These photographs, by South African photographer Frank Marshall, show us members of Botswana’s vibrant heavy metal scene. These images bring to mind infamous images from the 70’s, but the truth is that although these men may have adopted metal music and the look of dangerous outlaw rockers, they could not be more different from organizations like the Hell’s Angels. Botswana’s rockers are seen more like guardian angels. Apart from being passionate about metal music, they sometimes patrol at night and keep the streets safe, with children following them around.  Their heavy metal attire is definitely an expression of macho power, but there is an element of extreme respect and dignity to it. For them, putting on their leather pants and their rocker’s paraphernalia it is like putting on a uniform. There is a strong bond among these men and sense of camaraderie.

Many of them are actually cowboys from small villages and farms, which explains the appropiation of cowboy and biker looks. They also wear symbols of Africa -like animal horns- and adopt names like Bone Machine, Bound By The Moon, Demon, Gunsmoke, Morgue Boss, Coffinfeeder, Venerated Villain, or Apothecary Dethrok.

In a very unique way, these men represent a parody of the heavy metal and the biker culture, both traditionally considered unmistakably Caucasian. At the same time, however, they represent the renegade and rebellious spirit of both, because they are an underground minority, they an anomaly in a country like Botswana, and men on the fringe of their society.

Other sources:

Women On Top

From bunga-bunga parties to genocide, from recruitment of children soldiers to senseless wars, from the massacre of civilians to waterboarding, from appropiation of territory to oppression, humiliation and selective killing, and from religion to invasions…if there’s one thing that men have demonstrated throughout History is that they are uncapable of responsibly ruling the world.

The authors of a recently published report conclude that having women in positions of power has a positive effect, both in the aspirations of girls and in the expectations of parents for their daughters. This study was carried out in India and shows that a quota for women is good because it eliminates gender differences, sets an example and is inspiring for younger generation.

Women have been present in positions of power since the beginning of History, but this has been an exception, not the rule. I align myself with media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner who once said that men should be barred from office for 100 years everywhere. In this article I reflect about the women currently ruling many countries around the world.

However, it is not realistic to expect women to assume positions of power -both in politics and in business- unless the very nature of work is redefined. Business and politics everywhere have to be reinvented so that women don’t find themselves having to chose between creating a family and competing for the highest jobs. Nordic countries offer a good template to follow, as I discuss in this article. Scandinavian women enjoy generous maternity leaves and their jobs and positions are generally guaranteed. Iceland has one of the highest levels of women in the labour force and also a high fertility rate, compared to other countries. Surprisingly, the United States is one of the few countries with no paid maternity leave national program.

For a look at the situation of women in the workforce today, take a look at this article. Unlike other articles from my magazine, I did not actually write this one. I read a full 14-page Special Report in The Economist and simply selected the facts and figures I thought were more relevant, so I was more a curator than an actual writer. For a quick glimpse at some interesting figures of women around the world, also check this map I elaborated, based on figures from this report.

The case of Lesotho is very interesting. It is a tiny country surrounded completely by South Africa, with a population of just 2 million. It ranks eighth in the world, by the World Economic Forum, when it comes to bridging the gap between the sexes. This can be partly explained by the vaccuum left by men when they left en masse to work in mines in South Africa, but education has also played an important role. Sadly, though, Lesotho has also one of the highest rape rates in the world.

Oprah Winfrey, another American media tycoon and philanthropist, has understood well the potential of Africa. This article talks about her Leadership Academy for Girls. The academy prepares girls from impoverished backgrounds to be the future leaders of Southafrica and the continent. Today, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the first and currently the only elected female head of state in Africa, a continent with 1 billion people and 14.72% of the world’s population. Sirleaf was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakel Karman of Yemen.

After centuries of bad management and government, isn’t it about time women took over?