After a few panels and talks on mobile money at Afrikoin, we had the opportunity to listen to Gianluca Iazzolino, a researcher from the University of Edinburgh. Gianluca works on the way Somali people deal with mobile money as a people that moves a lot – for political reasons with refugees, but also as they are merchants of gold and other goods that can be exchanged in the surrounding East African countries.
To understand how Somali people interact with money, says Gianluca, you could decide to read Charles Stross “Neptune’s Brood” , a sci-fi book whose main hero is a banker. The concepts of fast, slow and medium money used in the book can be a first approach to the Somali behavior : “Fast is every day cash, medium is investments in infrastructure and slow is money that can only be transferred once the sender, receiver and a bank have all registered the trade”Â (forum).
Gianluca led his research by exploring Eastleigh, a district of Kenya’s capital Nairobi where Somali settled, andÂ describes it as “a crossroadsÂ of flows, from China to the States, from Dubai to the different diasporas of refugees and merchants, and a paradise for the informal economy”.
The hawala, he explains, is a concept of informal mobile money similar in a way to MPesa, Kenya’s mobile money. It is in turn described as a source of terrorism financing and also as a “lifeline” as it allows a mobile and often endangered population to keep money in a safe place.Â But there are differences, for instance, MPesa is good for small amounts of money, it requires an ID, and is mostly limited to Kenya, when the hawala is multicurrency, international, without ID requirements and make large amount of money possible to exchange.
Dahabshiil is the most famous transfer company using the hawala to allow its users send and receive money. They are used by NGOs operating in Somali as well as the UN, so there’s little risk that it can be forced to close as it was the case for previous operators.
The link between MPesa, the Kenyan mobile money, and hawala, on the Somali side, is also a matter of cultures, says Gianluca. The former is perceived within the Eastleigh communities as a service for women and student to manage their daily expenses, when the latter hawala is considered a more “masculine” service as it’s anonymous and ideal for larger deals.
As a conclusion to this first part of his research, Gianluca stresses that the Somali people live in a perpetual state of multiplicity and mobility as they don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Their activity revolves “around the pursuit of resources that allow crossing borders, boundaries andÂ thresholds, such as passports, ID documents, UNHCR mandates and hard currencies”.Â
This is an impressive glance at dead angle of our contemporary world. Gianluca will spend a month in Somali and in surrounding East African countries later on so we’ll stay tuned to his research work.