By Mohamed Ibrahim
A Somali man collects his money from the counter at a Dahabshiil money transfer office in “Kilometer Five” street of Soobe village, southern Mogadishu, May 8, 2013. Photo: Reuters/Feisal Omar
The developmental assistance and political capital United Kingdom in Somalia has and is continuing to spend in Somalia is critical to the recovery of Somalia’s economy, education, health and security reform sectors. The London Somali Conferences of 2012 and 2017 London Somalia Conference 2017 was monumental in galvanising political and developmental commitments as well policy coordination across the international community. The first green-shoots are beginning to show in the State’s institutional apparatus in the area of political institutions, security, financial and developmental reform.
As a former civil servant and ardent supporter of joint –up policymaking, it is my view the UK in Somalia must now summon greater political purpose for policy coordination. The Somali remittances support sectors from the Somali diaspora is estimated between $1.3 -2 Billion annually, dwarfing the combined international community developmental assistance to Somalia How Will Remittances Affect the Somali COVID-19 Response?
From academics, World Bank, Non-governmental Organisations and governments across the globe there is a consensus on the critical role this sector plays to prevent humanitarian disasters while aiding the growth of the Somali economy. For the diaspora, this issue is not just about development but one of financial inclusion. Since the Somali Money Transfer businesses lost their banking business accounts they had to endure greater costs, red tape and unnecessary scrutiny while relying on third-party agents to survive and transfer money to Somalia. This is a form of financial exclusion in the UK and its time policymakers realise the sector cannot be treated as a second class citizen service. The sector is too important to Somalia and British/Somali citizens be left alone in the margins of the financial sector. Fragile societies and countries depend on it and with this mind a balance of risk must be found across government, banks and the sector to enable financial inclusion.
Undoubtedly, one can appreciate the delicate balance between risk/regulation and service provision. However, for the UK banking sector to refuse to provide bank accounts to this sector without evidence of wrong-doing amounts to discrimination based on suspicion only. As a progressive country, the UK has a statutory obligation to make sure that markets do not discriminate against minority groups/businesses without due process and this aspect has been consistently and politically overlooked since 2015/2016, giving the banks free ride to discriminate at will. The UK banking industry is a vital part of the economy and it must be protected – but not to the cost of innocent businesses who have a right to equal treatment as customers within the economy. Equality Act 2010: how it might affect you
One of the critical factors that allow this behaviour from banks is fact that the remittances market provides services to Somalia, a country recovering from legacy of civil war where terrorism exists. This is relevant but in my view is disproportionate and gives UK based banks the license to discriminate without evidence. This gives the wrong message to moderate law abiding citizens in the diaspora, penalising their legal businesses without evidence and therefore giving a moral victory to the terrorist groups far and wide. The war against terrorism is also about hearts and minds and its time UK, US regulators and banking services recognised this with political conviction and action. Additionally, with the help of UK in Somalia and the World Bank enormous strides on regulatory and financial reforms has been enacted by Somali Central Bank and Ministry of Finance over the past three years, enabling Somalia access to financial support from international financial institutions. Progress of this nature must be reciprocated by sound policy judgements from banking regulators and banks. With this in mind, UK banks and regulators must avoid penalising legitimate remittances businesses who serve legitimate customers while enhancing the livelihoods of recipients and their economies.
As nations and societies across the world begin to adapt to COVID19, market resilience and sustainability of supply of financial support is going to be of greater importance to fragile societies. Within this context, the Somali Money transfers businesses cannot be forced to operate on the periphery of the UK economy without formal banking services. I myself have experienced the log-jams in the system where many customers has been forced or restricted to sending just $200 to support families in Somalia/Somaliland.This risk to the global poor must be mitigated so that future COVID19 spikes and fragility in the market can be bridged Covid-19: Impact on Remittances from UK to Somalia
With the above context, I would like to encourage the UK government to reinstate the cross-departmental Safer Corridor Project involving Somali Money Transfer businesses and community representatives in order to mitigate risks and provide a framework for cooperation to end this acute dilemma facing citizens, businesses and fragile societies/ economies across Somalia. As a community representative to the development of this project, it is prudent for all to inject new energy and political capital to this project with the end-game insight that is effective and fair to customers as well as markets Action Group on Cross Border Remittances
There is a lot achieved in Somalia by UK in Somalia and a lot more to do. It is time we all work in partnership to bring policy areas together that strengthens market resilience and a safety net for vulnerable societies in Somalia. While UK government reconfigures is governmental departments to fit our priorities for post Brexit global Britain, we must not lose sight of the reality that our core national interest is also aligned with our commitment to fragile recovering resourceful countries. This task should begin in earnest to facilitate a joint-up policy making processes across UK in Somalia.
Mohamed Ibrahim BA/MSc, London School of Economics and Political Science, is a London based, Director of London Somali Youth Forum – He can be reached via @Mi_shiine Email: [email protected]