Sunday, March 18, 2012
Frustration has gripped the Somali community following allegations that
the head of one of the largest telecommunication companies in Somalia
was providing financial support to Al-Shabaab through the informal
hawala money transfer system.
Mr Ali Ahmed Nur Jim’ale of Hormuud Telecommunications was
accused by the United Nations Security Council, as being one of the
financiers of Al-Shabaab, providing the group with funds besides
weapons, private fighters and ammunition.
The report released by the Security Council’s
Department of Public Information last month stated that Mr Jim’ale also
established ZAAD, a mobile money transfer system that made “money
transfers more anonymous by eliminating the need to show
The revelations, community elders and activists
say, have dealt a blow to the battle to restore the flow of remittances
through the hawala system from the United States.
“It really gets you worried when that call comes
about at 3 a.m. or 4 am. from a family member back in the Horn, and you
know you can’t send money to them,” Ms Hinda Ali of the Somali Action
Alliance in Minnesota told the Sunday Nation by phone.
The Sunrise Community Bank, which was the last US
bank to do business with the Somali hawalas, stopped dealing with all of
them by end of last year. The banks said they feared federal indictment
if some of the money ended up funding terrorist activities.
This has left the community with no option but to
hold weekly protests and to demand that large banks reverse their
decision or face the possibility of losing business.
In Minnesota, protesters gave US Bank and Wells Fargo until May
11 to address these concerns or lose a client base of more than 20,000
Somalis, who sau they will close their accounts to protest the decision.
“We are hoping that it is going to be effective,”
Ms Ali said. “Many religious institutions and individual businesses have
accounts with these banks. The banks need to be held accountable.”
Ms Anya Svanoe, a community organiser in Minnesota,
said the banks, and not the federal government, have power to decide
whether or not to continue with the transfers.
“If matters are not resolved quickly, Wells Fargo
risks further destroying any remaining credibility in the community as a
socially responsible bank and more people will pull their money from
this institution,” Ms Svanoe said via email.
However, some of the community members are sceptical about the effectiveness of the move.
“Somalis need to petition the government,”
Abdibashir Ali, an economics student said. “Banks don’t want to be
involved in lawsuits for sending money to Al-Shabaab.” "
In early February, Ahmed Hussein Mohamed became the latest Minnesota
resident to plead guilty to charges of raising and sending money to
terrorist groups in Somalia.
In October last year, two Somali women were also convicted of collecting and sending up to $8,000 (Sh700,000) to al-Shabaab.
Hormuud, which Mr Jim’ale heads, was created by the
former leaders of al-Barakaat, a leading telecom provider in Somalia
that also had hawala services.
In 2006, after years of investigation, the US
removed al-Barakat from its terror list after debunking suspicions that
the company was used to transfer money used in the September 11 attacks
Back in Kenya, families and relatives dependent on remittances from the United States say they have been feeling the pinch.
Ms Ruqiyo Mohamed Hassan, a mother of nine, says
the $400 (Sh32,000) she used to get from her sister helped to relieve
some of her monthly expenses. Mrs Hassan says her husband is jobless and
that she now worries over how to provide for her family.
Ms Khadijo Hassan Farah, 30, a mother of four in
Ifo Camp in Dadaab, says lack of remittances has forced her to buy goods
on credit from shops, andshe is worried her debt will skyrocket.
Remittances to Somalia each year are estimated at over $1 billion. The
US Department of the Treasury estimates that ethnic Somalis in the
United States contribute $100 million.