Western Assault on Somalia’s Remittance Pipeline

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>report, which emphasizes the “crucial role” of Somali-Americans and the money-transfer institutions they rely on to send life-saving funds back home. Despite its importance, “the Somalia remittance pipeline is under serious threat,” the report warns. Its precarious state is a result of a Washington-led effort to prevent Somalis in the diaspora from providing aid to their home country, one of the lesser-known developments that have come out of the “war on terror.”

float” the economy. In an impressive expression of solidarity, less than a million Somalis in the diaspora remit somewhere between $1 and $2 billion annually, making remittances the largest contributor to the country's GDP. Some forty-percent of the population relies on these transfers, which are used to cover basic expenses, like food, medical expenses, and education. For perspective, Somalia receives more in remittances in an average year than the level of humanitarian assistance provided by foreign governments in 2012, a year when assistance was irregularly high as a result of the 2011 “epic” drought in the Horn of Africa and the famine it triggered in south-central Somalia.


pulled the plug on humanitarian assistance to the country and then criminalized humanitarian relief in the south-central region. These benevolent acts, along with Al Shabaab's ban on Western aid agencies, effectively dismantled the humanitarian relief system in the region—a major cause of the famine which claimed an estimated 260,000 lives, according to a new mortality study.


The Price of Fear: The Truth Behind the Financial War on Terror. This reaction is especially revealing in light of the circumstances at the time of the decision. Just two weeks before the closure, the UN announced that 300,000 Somalis faced immediate starvation due to drought and food shortage. Fortunately, the decline in remittances caused by the closure was not as severe as predicted, as other companies filled the void. When the administration withd font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>

reportedly planning to close its account with Dahabshiil. The company is a member of the Somali Money Services Association (SOMSA), a UK trade body for the money transfer industry. According to SOMSA, twelve of its members have lost their accounts in the UK. The five remaining members face “imminent” shutdowns, the BBC reports.

font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>closure of Dahabshiil “will cut a lifeline for essential services in Somalia,” says Philippe Lazzarini, the UN's top humanitarian official in Somalia. Lazzarini's statement is echoed in a letter signed by over a hundred Somali and international scholars who have called on the UK government to intervene on behalf of the company and the many who rely on its services, a proposition which was rejected.

background-position-x:0%;background-position-y:0%”>Laura Hammond, a scholar specializing on the Horn of Africa, discusses the likely impacts of the closures in her recent article background-position-y:0%”>: “members of the diaspora living in the UK and many other European countries [will] be unable to legally send money to Somalia, many aid agencies will also have difficulty,” as they rely on Dahabshiil to make payments inside Somalia. “The timing of this decision could not have been worse,” she explains.

white”> font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>cited color:#333333;background:white”>Too Weak To Protect

background-position-x:0%;background-position-y:0%”>These risks have white”> Barclays' decision comes after U.S. authorities fined the British financial giant, HSBC, almost $2 billion for its role in facilitating money-laundering by background-position-x:0%;background-position-y:0%”>“terrorists,” “rogue nations,” “drug kingpins,” and other nefarious actors. line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";color:#333333;background:
white”>reportededitorial background-position-x:0%;background-position-y:0%”>The doctrines don't extend to the weak. Accordingly, in the eyes of Western officials, the institutions and networks responsible for the functioning of Somalia's remittance pipeline, except the big banks, are sufficiently “small” – weak and insignificant – to force into failure. The same goes for those who rely on the “lifeline.”

color:#333333;background:white”>U.S. “Material Support” for Terrorism

background-position-x:0%;background-position-y:0%”>Washington's expressed concern is that the money transfers may somehow “benefit” Al Shabaab. Anyone familiar with recent events in Somalia can see the irony here. scroll;background-position-x:0%;background-position-y:0%”>ilitant coalition was catapulted into dominance after a devastating U.S.-backed Ethiopian intervention in late 2006. T 0%”>Before these events, the terrorist threat in Somalia was minuscule. line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>identified background-position-x:0%;background-position-y:0%”>Adding to the irony is the selective nature of Western attempts to choke off the financing of terrorism. As Anna Lindley, a scholar who has studied the Somali remittance systems, has noted, line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif"”>


provide assurances to Sunrise that it would not face legal ramifications for performing wire transfers.) Secondly, the bank's former clients began sending money through indirect (and more expensive) channels. As the Oxfam report states, the use of indirect channels “reduces the transparency of transactions and compromises the ability of the US government and Somali authorities to monitor and regulate the transfer of funds.” It's easy to see how Al Shabaab could exploit informal remittance channels.


108:433 (2009): 519-539.

Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield (New York: Nation Books, 2013). 

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