- Youth are increasingly signing up for memberships at private gyms in Hargeisa, whose number has swelled like a bicep on a bodybuilder. The boom in local fitness centres is helping to create jobs, promote good health and lure youths towards positive activities, gym owners and local officials say.
"Exercising is an entertaining alternative for young people that takes the place of substance abuse and engaging in organised crime," said Hamza Ali Jibril, owner of Golds Gym in Hargeisa.
Abdinur Mohamed Arab, a 24-year-old resident of Hargeisa, said for the past five months he has worked out al-Khayr fitness centre, where he trains in self-defence techniques to protect himself against criminal gangs.
"Since weapons are not allowed, I have been forced to learn how to defend myself and my property," he told Sabahi. "I have benefited by learning how to defend myself on my own against a group of attackers."
Gyms promote good health and well-being, said Mustafa Mohamed Qodah, director general at Somaliland's Ministry of Youth and Sports. Fitness centres distract youth from drug abuse and taking part in gang-related crimes, he said.
The majority of the gyms, however, are operating illegally. "Even though fitness centres have multiplied lately, only two of them are registered with the ministry," Qodah told Sabahi. "[Gyms] are required to register with the Sports Ministry to ensure that they are using appropriate equipment that will not harm users."
Mushrooming gym scene
One of the first local fitness centres was Bilkhair Gym. When it opened five years ago, its only competition was Horyaal fitness centre.
"However, in the last two years, these kinds of centres have increased and there are now about fifty," said Abdiqani Jama Ali, an instructor at Bilkhair.
"I can say that this is an opportunity for business, job creation and certainly for improving public health through sports," Ali told Sabahi. "Ninety-percent of these centres have been opened by young people we trained here."
Bilkhair Gym now has about 500 members -- mainly young men and women who participate in fitness classes and weight training, but also older people who exercise to get in better shape, become healthy and ward off illnesses, Ali said.
The centre offers memberships ranging from three to 10 months. The gym stays open 15 hours a day and charges a monthly fee of $11. The classes are segregated between the sexes, and women members are assigned a female instructor.
Private fitness centres also have spread to other cities, such as Burao, Borama, Berbera and Gabiley. "Some [new gym owners] come to us for advice on how to open the business or instructions for classes," Ali said.
Jibril, owner of Golds Gym, said he opened his centre "to provide the public with beneficial fitness services and to capitalise on a new business [concept] in the country".
Although Jibril has so far not recouped the $20,000 he invested in equipment about 18 months ago, he said Golds Gym, which started with four members, now has 80 members who each pay $15 monthly for membership.
"This [business] is better than other businesses because it is not dealing in goods that will expire or be damaged and you are not selling problematic goods," he said.