Earlier this month, the office of the comptroller of the currency (OCC) - a bureau of the US treasury department - sent the last bank in the USA processing money transfers to Somalia a cease-and-desist order. They reasoned that some of the money being sent to Somalia might find its way into the hands of the terrorist group Al-Shabaab. Right, well - as George Monbiot pointed out - why doesn’t the USA also ban telephones to prevent terrorists discussing their terror plots, ban agricultural fertilisers to stop them making explosives, or ban clocks to prevent them from planning their next crime? Why doesn’t the US stop wire transfers to other countries that harbour terrorists?
Here’s the real point: Somalia is easily one of the world’s poorest countries, and remittances (money sent by individuals to recipients at a distance) make up nearly 50% of the country’s gross national income - far more than all the money from foreign aid. A sizeable fraction of the Somalian population relies on these remittances for their very survival. It's literally a matter of life and death. And whereas remote money transfers amount to more than a billion dollars per annum, over the past decade the amount of money known to have been transferred to suspected terrorists amounts to no more than a few thousand dollars.
Money transfers from abroad pay for food, housing, schooling, business start-ups and more. Somalia’s hawala informal banking system (the country has no functioning bank system) is widely seen as a model for other developing nations. But it simply cannot work if banks in donor nations are not allowed to transfer funds to Somalia. During a recent famine, according to a British government report, “British Somalis saved hundreds of thousands of lives by remitting money…reaching family members before aid agencies could mobilise.” The US treasury’s callous, heavy-handed paranoia threatens remittances from all over the world, since no bank wants to lose U.S. business.
This pointless destruction stands in stark contrast to the US government’s continued support of HSBC, which was recently found to have processed billions of dollars of Mexican drug money, and to have links with Saudi and Bangladeshi banks known to finance terrorist groups. The only reason there was no criminal prosecution: according to the US attorney general’s office, too many bankers’ jobs were at stake. So the US government bends over backwards to protect the jobs of a few bankers - even if it means turning a blind eye to the illegal transfer of billions of dollars that fund illicit activities - but doesn't think twice about cutting off a major lifeline to millions of starving Somalis, if it means preventing the illegal transfer of a few thousand dollars.
I am disgusted by this callous, hypocritical, discriminatory, shameful, hateful indifference to the plight of millions of starving human beings. But maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, it was Susan Rice - currently the US National Security Advisor, and former US Ambassador to the UN - who once argued successfully in favour of the US downplaying the Rwandan Genocide, saying at the time: "If [the Clinton administration] uses the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the [congressional midterm] election?” Priorities, eh?
Remittances to Somalia are "a matter of life and death," said Mohamud, who works as a liaison between school districts and Somali immigrants. "It's the difference between hunger and hope. What we send feeds the empty stomachs that nobody else will be able to feed."