By James Wafula in Nairobi.
The power of the Somalia dollar has long been felt in the last two decades as Nairobi hotels in the CBD were taken over and renovated as five star outlets.
The Somalis with one of the most developed mobile cash transfers in the world, involving billions of dollars, appear to have virtually taken over Kenya’s hotel industry.
Latest data from the World Bank shows Somalia as one of the most dynamic money markets in Africa and worldwide.
Despite only being introduced 10 years ago, over two thirds of all payments in Somalia now rely on mobile money platforms.
Although Hormuud, Somalia’s leading mobile money provider, only received GSMA Mobile Money Certification in March, a global standard of telecoms excellence, the country has changed the face of money transfers worldwide for decades.
The major factors behind the country’s innovation in money transfers are a tough operating environment, a weak banking system, lack of policy implementation, and deep distrust of government and the local currency.
It’s the culture in our community, we are risk takers. Due to the challenges, we have had to explore new ideas.
Innovations range from the early adoption of the Hawala system to the global rise of money transfer companies of Somali origin including World Remit and Dahabshill.
“Anyone who has a mobile has mobile money services,” says Abdullahi Rage, a Mogadishu-based research analyst at the African Center for Strategic Progress, a US think tank.
“The problem in Somalia is that we have a lack of data—it’s hard to get an exact number. But I would say more than nine out of 10 people use mobile money in Somalia.”
Somalia has long been a challenging market with deep divides in government that often spill over into armed conflict and parts of the country under the control of terrorist group al-Shabaab. But these problems have created the perfect hotbed for innovative solutions, especially with regards to financial technology.
“It’s the culture in our community, we are risk takers. Due to the challenges, we have had to explore new ideas,” says Ahmed Mohamed Yuusuf, CEO and chairman of Hormuud, one of Somalia’s biggest telcos with 4.5 million subscribers.
The first innovation was the early adoption of the hawala money transfer system, which originated in 8th century India and spread to the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. The service allows users to send and receive money in different countries through an informal network of brokers, without any funds crossing borders.
This method of money transfer was popular in Somalia before mobile money and continues to this day, with most brokers moving into the formal telecoms industry. Yuusuf says that up to 45% of the hawala agents in Somalia, who mostly process payments from the US and UK, use Hormuud’s EVC Plus mobile money to do business.
The chairman of the group says it was the high costs, inefficiencies, and structural barriers associated with Somalia’s legacy banking system that previously drove people to the hawala network and the same is true of mobile money.
Dahabshiil was founded by Mr. Mohamed Saeed Duale. It started off as a remittance brokerage selling imported goods from Gulf states on behalf of migrant workers and transferring the proceeds back to their families. In 1970 Dahabshiil opened its first shop in Burao, the capital city of the Togdheer province in North-West Somalia; now known as Somaliland. Over the next 18 years Mr. Mohamed and his support staff expanded the business making it the leading remittance broker in the Horn of Africa region.
In 1988 the Somalia civil war, that broke out forcing more that half a million Somalis to seek refuge in different parts of the world, was a major setback to the business. This however didn’t kill Mr. Duale’s dream. With limited resources, strong network of business associates and his experience, Mr. Duale set up a new remittance venture enabling Somali refugees to send goods back to displaced family members. The influx of Somali population in the United Kingdom enabled…
In Kenya, Dahabshiil has implemented policies and procedures that ensure a full suite of checks and controls are completed on senders and receivers of remittances. Central Bank of Kenya Supervisory Department carried out an in-depth audit of Dahabshiil’s business and found that Dahabshiil was fully compliant with all relevant policies and procedures. It was the first money transfer company to be audited by the Central Bank.
Dahabshiil contributes to the Kenyan economy by employing Kenyans, providing hard currency, and paying substantial taxes and other contributions.
Dahabshiil values its civic obligations in Kenya. It was recently one of the companies which sponsored the Kenya Diaspora Forum, graced by President Uhuru Kenyatta, where it played a pivotal role as a gold sponsor.