Somali opens Mogadishu's first dry cleaners in decades

An interior photo of the Somalia Premium Laundry in Mogadishu, the city's first dry cleaner for 25 years. Many Somalis send their clothes by air to Kenya to get them dry cleaned

A businessman has opened a dry cleaners in Somalia's capital - the city's only one, and its first since the start of the civil war more than 20 years go.

Mohamed Mahamoud Sheik decided to start it when he returned home recently to Mogadishu after years abroad.

He told the BBC the city's security had improved in the last 10 months, since Islamist militants were pushed out by African Union and government forces.

Mr Sheik also noticed businessmen would take suits abroad to clean them.

Start Quote

Mohamed Mahamoud Sheikh

When they read 'Somali Premium Laundry', they say, 'wow, is this a real laundry?”

End Quote Mohamed Mahamoud Sheik

"My dad, friends and people in the government were taking their clothes to be dry cleaned in Kenya," Mr Sheik said.

"They either took them themselves, or gave them to friends who were flying to Nairobi. Everyone, from the president downwards, was really suffering."

Somalia has had no effective central government since 1991, and has been wracked by fighting ever since - a situation that has allowed piracy and lawlessness to flourish.

The Islamist al-Shabab militia, which is fighting the UN-backed interim government, still controls much of the south of the country, but since it was forced from Mogadishu, the city is coming back to life.

People are going to the beach, opening restaurants, hotels and other businesses.

Government guards

Mr Sheik, who has a business degree from a university in Malaysia, was working at the airport in Dubai when he came upon the idea.

An employee of the Somalia Premium Laundry checks a rail of clothes. The new dry cleaners imports most of its supplies by sea from Dubai

With no experience in the cleaning industry, he spent his spare time picking up skills at a dry cleaners owned by a friend.

"Setting up a laundry in Mogadishu was really difficult. The equipment is expensive, and I had to order the washer, dryer, presser and dry-cleaning machine from Dubai, the US and Italy," Mr Sheik said.

Finding a suitable premises was also a problem.

"Because the city is more peaceful now, everybody is running to find a place to open a business. Getting a building is really hard in Mogadishu these days because there is so much competition for space."

Although most al-Shabab fighters have been driven out of Mogadishu, the city is by no means safe. Suicide and other attacks are common.

Government officials have provided Mr Sheik with one guard at night and two during the day.

Map

The dry cleaners has been road-tested for a few weeks prior to the grand opening on Friday afternoon, which coincides with Mr Sheik's 24th birthday.

He says people cannot quite believe their eyes when they see his sign.

"When they read 'Somali Premium Laundry', they say, 'wow, is this a real laundry? Is this place open?'"

Mr Sheik is aware that he will face many challenges running his business in a country that has been at war for most of his life.

"It's very hard to find people in Mogadishu who know about dry cleaning. I found one man who used to work in a dry cleaners in the city more than 20 years ago, but the equipment he used was completely different."

Private companies are providing reliable supplies of both water and electricity, he says.

He has brought spare parts and other supplies from Dubai, and says he can easily order more, which can be shipped across the ocean in a matter of days.

Mr Sheik says he will give some of his profits to a school for the blind and deaf in Mogadishu.

"At this time in Mogadishu you can walk around anytime you want to. You feel safe. The explosions and the fighting have stopped.

"I was a bit lonely in Dubai, and I was always worrying about my family in Mogadishu. I see myself making a life here, amongst my people."

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