So I decided that during my holiday break in early May I’d like to venture outside Somaliland and hopefully visit Kenya. Getting there of course means booking a plane ticket, an activity which in any normal country would be an easy, painless, web-based process. Not in Somaliland. That would be way too simple.
There are a couple airlines that fly from Somaliland to Nairobi but, of course, they either don’t have websites that work, don’t have an online booking system for that flight, and/or don’t accept credit cards. Basically, if I want to book the ticket, I have to go in person to their office and pay them $500 in cash (who, in our generation of Easy Jet and Ebookers, has ever booked plane tickets like this?).
So, slight problem. Do I own $500? Yes. Do I have it here, in hard cash? No. Can I go to the ATM and withdraw it? No, because there are no ATMs. So how on earth do I get my bloody money?! That’s where Dahabshiil, the Somali version of Western Union, comes in…
To get my money, I had to ask my friend who lives in East London to go to a dodgy little corner shop behind the East London Mosque in Whitechapel and hand over a few hundred pounds in cash to some bloke named Faysal, who acts as a Dahabshiil international money transfer agent.
All he asks for is her name, her address, my name, my phone number, and my address (which consists entirely of “Hargeisa, Somaliland,” seeing as there are no postal addresses or street names in Somaliland). She hands him the money, he hands her a receipt and, that’s it – done!
Next I go to one of several Dahabshiil offices here in Hargeisa, visit the “Remittances” desk, and tell them I want my money. All they ask for is my name, the name of the person who sent the money, and an ID such as my passport to prove I am the recipient. They photocopy my passport, I sign a paper, and they hand over the cash. Ta da!
Of course, they Dahabshiil takes a commission, but it isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things. My friend sent £328 and I collected $500. At that day’s exchange rate, £328 was equivalent to $526, so $26 paid to transfer $500 amounts to only a 5% commission. Not bad in my opinion, seeing as my Barclays current account charges me a 5% fee every time I use my debit card to withdraw cash from abroad.
O f course, the typical Dahabshiil customer is not foreigners such as myself, but Somalilanders receiving money from their family members in the US, the UK, Canada, Kenya, Yemen, etc. The Somaliland economy, which suffers high levels of unemployment is hugely dependent on remittances from the Somali Diaspora.