Here's a show for one of the networks: Three African Americans from the Northwest hook up with a Somali immigrant to export cattle from...
Here’s a show for one of the networks: Three African Americans from the Northwest hook up with a Somali immigrant to export cattle from Somalia to Dubai.
Best of all, it would be a reality show, because it actually is happening. Ahmed (Rashid) Mohamed is taking the benefits of his American sojourn back to Africa with the help of some partners in a business venture they hope will do well and good at the same time.
George Vallery, a local business consultant and one of the investors, told me about the project.
My first thought was that they could have chosen a better location than a violent country that hasn’t had a real national government in 15 years. But I was intrigued by the mix of business and social goals that drives their entrepreneurship.
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Mohamed is president of Urur Livestock, a subsidiary of Evans General Trading. The CEO of Evans is Eric Evans, a Microsoft alumnus who ran a software company of his own before tiring of writing code.
The third principal is Frank Procella, who went from running an artificial-insemination business in Bellingham to running the Urur operation outside Mogadishu. Procella has worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Agriculture.
All of them know business, but in addition, Procella knows agriculture, Mohamed knows Somalia (his father was a clan elder) and Evans had money to invest.
The business started with Mohamed, who came to the United States in 1973 to study economics at the University of Washington.
He and his wife opened two coffee shops in Saudi Arabia in 1984. They named the business American Corner and ran it until 1987, when they decided to return to Somalia. Unfortunately, the country was beginning to slide into civil war.
They were evacuated by the U.S. in 1989, but Mohamed continued to look for opportunities to take his skills back to Somalia.
His first thought was to start a produce business, but he decided livestock made more sense, and he approached potential partners here about his ideas.
“I like American ingenuity to do things differently than we do in the rest of the world,” he said, adding that there is a lot of African-American talent waiting to be tapped, people who might have an interest in doing business in Africa. Procella, Evans and Vallery are African Americans.
Urur was born about three years ago and is named after Mohamed’s grandfather. The word is also related to the Somali verb that means “to organize.”
The men created a holding lot on 12 acres just outside Mogadishu, where they employ 40 people. They buy cattle and grain from locals, treat the animals for ticks, vaccinate them and fatten them for market.
Transportation has been a headache. Workers herd the cattle inland nearly 200 miles to Beledweyne near the Ethiopian border, and from there trucks take them north to the port at Bossaso.
Then the cattle are loaded onto a barge and ferried to anchored ships.
There are often complications. Sometimes truckers raise their fees at the last minute; sometimes ships don’t show up.
Even so, the company exports about 100 cattle every two or three weeks now. And soon they will be able to load cattle directly onto ships at the much larger Mogadishu port, which has just been reopened by the Union of Islamic Courts, which controls that area.
The U.S. government has been critical of the Islamic courts, claiming they harbor terrorists, but Evans and Mohamed say they don’t get involved in that. “We try to be as apolitical as possible. Peace is good for business, and they have brought peace,” Evans says.
Company officials used to travel with a large, armed security detail, but since the Islamists took over the city, that is no longer necessary. “You couldn’t pick up the phone and call the police, but Mogadishu is still a functioning city. No matter how bad things get, people find a way to survive,” Evans says.
Urur has added milk cows to serve the local market and has plans to grow its own feed and eventually do business with other Gulf nations. They say that as they grow, the benefits to the local population will increase.
They plan to build a mosque, help fund schools and teach modern agricultural practices. Already locals have a consistent market for cattle, and the company has been giving food to an adjacent orphanage and providing clean water for people who live nearby.
Some of the locals have become entrepreneurs in their own right, finding ways to make money from their proximity to the feedlot — women who sell lunch to workers, for instance.
Evans and Mohamed told me that when Somalis in the U.S. reminisce, they often say, “when Somalia was Somalia.” One of their company goals is to help Somalia be Somalia again.
If they succeed at that, their profit will be measured in more than money.