OVERZEALOUS WESTERN BANKS THREATEN TO CHOKE OFF SOMALIA’S STRUGGLING RECOVER BY TARGETING THE HAWALA TRANSFER SYSTEM.
Columbus, Ohio – Every month I visit a small grocery store in a non-descript building in Columbus, Ohio, where I live, to use a service that keeps Somalia alive: "Hawala", the traditional money transfer system used throughout the Middle-East, Africa and South Asia. Similar to Western Union, Hawalas present a way to easily transfer money from one country to another, using a wide network of agents and central clearinghouses that make such transfers quick, cheap and reliable.
Like many other members of the Somali diaspora, I use Hawalas to transfer badly-needed funds to friends and family at home. But the system is threatened by a new wariness among international banks used to clear the cash, which could sever an essential financial lifeline to Somalia just as it emerges from decades of civil war.
In Britain, Barclays bank has given hundreds of Hawalas until August 12 to shut down – a step which could halt the flow of as much as $12m a month sent to Somalia from Britain. The decision by Barclays, the seventh largest bank in the world and one of the most influential globally, signals to other Western financial institutions, already suspicious of the Hawala system, not to do business with these organizations altogether.
Here in the United States, scrutiny of the Hawala system over fears of money-laundering has seen banks…