Secretary Kerry Makes Trip to Somalia Without Answers to Somalia’s Most Pressing Question


《Secretary Kerry Makes Trip
to Somalia Without Answers
to Somalia’s Most Pressing
Question》 The trip demonstrates extraordinary
courage on the part of Secretary Kerry.
After landing in the heavily fortified
Mogadishu airport, he spent three and a
half hours speaking with Somali leaders
guarded by the Ugandan soldiers of the
African Union Mission in Somalia before
Though his staff may have been worried
about his physical security, Secretary
Kerry’s chief cause for concern should
have been that he arrived without
answers to the question on the tip of so
many Somali tongues: why is the US
government keeping our families abroad
from sending us the money we need to
survive? Of course, the US government
has no desire to disrupt the remittance
flows that nearly half of the country’s
population depend on to meet their
basic needs, but that is cold comfort to
the Somali family that cannot pay rent
or afford basic healthcare because
Somali remittance companies couldn’t
get the money through this month.
The situation is getting worse. Since
Somali money transfer operators (MTOs)
lost their accounts at Merchants Bank of
California in early February, they have
struggled to find reliable ways to send
money to Somalia . Some of them have
relied on smaller, local banks to handle
some of the cash flow. Many have
limited the amount of money each
customer can send. Others have shut
down some of their locations, leaving
Somali-Americans in small diaspora
communities in the US without any
service. In desperation, some Somali
MTOs have begun transporting cash
abroad in person (a legal, but
horrifically insecure and expensive
option). This week, First American Bank
in Chicago will close its few Somali MTO
accounts as well, putting what is left of
the industry on life support.
US anti-money laundering law isn’t the
sole cause of the problem, but it is a
significant cause – and it’s having
effects all over the world. Since most
transfers to Somalia are handled in US
dollars, US banks generally play a small
role in the transfers, which they’re less
and less willing to do. In 2013, Barclays
Bank closed Somali (and many other)
MTO accounts under pressure. In
Australia, Westpac Bank did the same –
leaving MTOs there with no alternative.
In a different tact, the government of
Kenya simply froze the entire Somali
money transfer industry in response to
the horrific attacks in Garissa, perhaps
in an attempt to follow what is
(inaccurately) viewed as a deliberately
hard line from the US government.
Somali government leaders, up to and
including President Hassan Sheikh
Mohamoud, have publicly and privately
pleaded for the US government to
reverse this trend. Until recently, these
pleas have fallen on entirely deaf ears –
and while US policymakers are now
more engaged, likely due to a strong
push from Members of Congress, they
still have no answers.
Somali government officials likely had a
lot to cover in Secretary Kerry’s brief
visit, with security assistance and
election plans at the top of the list.
Given the multiple Somali delegations to
Washington this year devoted primarily
to securing remittance flows, it’s
impossible to imagine that Somali
leaders didn’t ask Secretary Kerry what
is being done to ease money transfers.
Had he ventured out of the airport into
the heart of Mogadishu, where public
protests against MTO bank account
closures took place just months ago, the
questions would have been louder and
accompanied by heartbreaking stories of
hardship, perseverance, and survival.
“How would you feel if your mom was
sick and you cannot provide the
medicine and food she needs?”
Mohamed Hassan once asked me in
Minneapolis. It’s a brave Secretary of
State who visits Somalia without any


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