MOGADISHU: The makers of Guurdoon, the first app for singles in Somalia, are hoping to help their fellow citizens find love in a nation with no shortage of challenges.
Just don't call it a dating app.
Guurdoon ("seeking marriage" in English) was launched in October last year by the Guryosamo family development centre, whose chairman Ahmed Abshir Geedi sees the app as a salve for some of the troubles facing the country since its 1991 descent into chaos.
"Everything society required collapsed, including the family which is the backbone of society," the 37-year-old told AFP, describing the decades since a civil war tore Somalia apart and set the stage for an ongoing extremist insurgency.
Guurdoon, he says, is not a dating app but a marriage platform based on Islamic values and traditions in the predominantly Muslim country.
Geedi and his colleagues initially sought to focus their efforts on helping families pay for weddings but soon realised that the compatibility issues troubling couples could not be solved with money.
The idea for the app emerged during discussions with religious leaders and community elders.
"We have learned about the need for facilitating a platform where people of all ages can meet and find each other as partners since our youth are mainly on social media these days," Geedi said.
The app, which is free to download on Android and iPhone models, requires subscribers to pay a US$1 fee before they can start using it.
Tens of thousands of people, including Somalis living overseas, have already signed up, Geedi said, with the surge of interest forcing the app's servers to crash in the early days.
‘Cannot tell my parents’
Users are asked to provide details about themselves to narrow down the search for a suitable partner.
"I have tried the app and it works well," Rahma Hussein, 23, told AFP.
"It is easy to use, and you can find a selection of boys to choose from," she added.
Abdifatah Adan, who drives a tuktuk for a living, told AFP that the app looked "cool".
"I have submitted details of my preferred partner and it gave me options, about eight people," he said.
"I have to decide and choose one."
But both acknowledged that they were conscious of the stigma surrounding dating in the largely conservative nation.
Adan said his mother mocked him when he told her he was using an app to find a wife.
"She told me that it is easy to trick someone using technology," he said.
Hussein said she and her friends used the app in secret to avoid being shamed by relatives.
"My brother knows I use the dating app but not my parents, I cannot tell my parents that I am dating a man or looking for someone to date online... because of cultural norms," she said.
But online dating also offers women a measure of safety in a conservative country, the young nurse pointed out.
"It is less trouble than physically meeting strangers. Once you interact with someone (online) you can ask them all the questions you want and make sure they suit you before you even meet them," she said with a smile.
Some Somalis have raised eyebrows, wondering if the app is in line with the Horn of Africa nation's traditional ethos.
"We are a society that values its religion and cultural norms and internet platforms like this can violate these values because the idea of a dating app (comes from) Western civilisation," Mohamed Yasin, 35, told AFP.
The divorced father-of-two nonetheless subscribed to Guurdoon after his first marriage ended and he said he hopes to find a second wife before long.
But in the meantime, he will have to traverse the same tricky terrain as singletons everywhere.
"I have tried the app, but it looks that most people lie about details of their personal information," said Mogadishu resident Muhidin Abdinur.
"How come that all subscribed girls and boys have the perfect features? I think they are lying to attract a partner easily," he said.
But he is keeping his hopes high.
"My intentions are good so I am positive about getting a match," he said.
"But even if I don't get a suitable partner who I end up marrying, it will still add to my courtship experience." – AFP