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In its April 26, 1999 issue, the Economist, a British economic weekly, called Somalia a country "abandoned by the world." Since the overthrow of the Barre administration in 1991, the anarchic country has fallen into a quagmire of internal wars between military clans and is stigmatized as a country of war and refugees. About 1 million people have been killed by war and famine; hundreds of thousands of refugees are wandering inside and outside of the country. The United Nations, which dispatched its peace troops to Somalia in 1992, fled the country three years later.

With the departure of the United Nations and foreign aid, the international community thought it was only a matter of time before Somalia collapsed to rubble. The world presumed that the Somalis would destroy themselves by killing each other in the ruins, without police, courts or an administration. But Somalia is still alive. The country is near the bottom of the global wealth list with about $120 of income per capita, but it has a fledgling government and is doing as well as its neighbors that are flooded with foreign charity.

The Economist noted that the telephone system is the last lifeline that sustains Somalia. Telephone services have been suspended since the collapse of the government in 1991. Phone lines were cut and operators disappeared.

But the telephone system, once on the brink of extinction, was revived thanks to a young entrepreneur, Abdirazak Osman, who was born in Somalia in 1960 and studied electrical engineering in the United States. He returned in 1997 and, for $1 million raised from his foreign partners, bought a telephone and an electricity company. The absence of a government, which would probably have bogged his business down with bureaucracy and corruption, actually worked to his benefit and Mr. Osman rehabilitated the telephone lines in one year.

These lines have achieved more than millions of dollars of foreign aid could have done, the Economist said. Business began to revive and communications reduced clan fighting. Soldiers still ask linemen for money, but Mr. Osman said he prefers dealing with such problems rather than with state monopolies, bureaucracy and corruption.

KT, which started as a government telephone monopoly here, was privatized last week. KT played a key role in our industrialization. I hope the privatized KT becomes the foundation for a 21st-century economic revolution. Telecommunications revived an abandoned country, Somalia. I have great hopes for KT as well.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Sohn Byoung-soo

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