Barclays vs Dahabshiil: when a Somali money transfer company takes on a banking giant

The Somali money transfer service Dahabshiil has won an injunction against Barclays, which had been threatening to cut off services to the company.

Yesterday, the Somali money transfer service Dahabshiil won an injunction against Barclays, which had been threatening to cut off services to the company over money-laundering fears. It’s hard to underestimate how significant this decision will prove for ordinary Somalis. Every year, British Somalis send around ₤500m home to relative and friends, and for many in Somalia, this is their primary source of income.

Overall the Somali diaspora send around $1.3bn home annually, and as years of civil conflict have left the country’s economy and banking sector in tatters, remittances are worth around 50 per cent of Somalia’s economy.

The main money transfer companies, like Western Union, which in 2012 was responsible for global money transfers of $72bn, do not operate in Somalia. Barclays is the only bank still offering services to small operators like Dahabshiil. If Barclays had been allowed to sever ties with Dahabshiil the effect for ordinary Somalis would be much greater than the cutting of all UK aid to Somalia: DfID pledged to deliver 63m in aid in 2012/13. No wonder the campaign to preserve this Somali lifeline has attracted high-profile supporters, including Mo Farah.

If Barclays had succeeded in cutting its relationship with Dahabshiil, this might have absolved it of responsibility to implement tough money-laundering checks, but it wouldn’t have stopped money flowing from the UK to groups like Al-Shabab. Removing formal channels would only force Somalis to rely on more expensive, less reliable informal money transfer agents. British-Somalis would find it harder to send money home, and UK authorities would struggle to monitor cash flows into Somalia.

Unfortunately, Dahabshiil was only granted extra time, and next year there will be new hearings to determine if it can still use Barclay’s services. Millions of Somalis may breathe a sigh of relief, but this problem isn't over yet.
 

A Somali money changer. Remittances from abroad make up half of the country's economy. Photo: Getty.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Donald Trump's threats give North Korea every reason it needs to keep nuclear weapons

The US president's warning that he may “totally destroy” the country is a gift to Kim Jong-un's regime. 

Even by Donald Trump's undiplomatic standards, his speech at the UN general assembly was remarkably reckless. To gasps from his audience, Trump vowed to "totally destroy" North Korea if it persisted with its threats and branded Kim Jong-un "rocket man". In an apparent resurrection of George W Bush's "axis of evil", the US president also declared: “If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph". 

For North Korea, Trump's words merely provide further justification for its nuclear weapons programme. Though the regime is typically depicted as crazed (and in some respects it is), its nuclear project rests on rational foundations. For Kim, the lesson from the fall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi was that tyrants pay a price for relinquishing their arms. The persistent threats from the US strengthen the regime's domestic position and reinforce a siege mentality. Though North Korea must be deterred from a pre-emptive strike, it must also be offered incentives to pursue a different path. 

As Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remarked last month: "We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel. We are not your enemy... but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond. And we hope that at some point they will begin to understand that and we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them."

The present nadir reflects the failures of the past. In 1994, the Clinton administration persuaded North Korea to freeze its nuclear programme in return for economic and diplomatic concessions. A communique declared that neither state had "hostile intent" towards the other. But this progress was undone by the Bush administration, which branded North Korea a member of the "axis of evil" and refused to renew the communique.

The subsequent six-party talks (also including China, Russia South Korea and Japan) were similarly undermined by the US. As Korea expert Mike Chinoy records in the Washington Post in 2005, the Bush administration provocatively "designated Macau's Banco Delta Asia, where North Korea maintained dozens of accounts, as a 'suspected money-laundering concern.'" When a new agreement was reached in 2007, "Washington hard-liners demanded that Pyongyang accept inspections of its nuclear facilities so intrusive one American official described them a 'national proctologic exam'".

For North Korea, the benefits of nuclear weapons (a "treasured sword of justice" in Kim's words) continue to outweigh the costs. Even the toughened UN sanctions (which will ban one third of the country's $3bn exports) will not deter Pyongyang from this course. As Tillerson recognised, diplomacy may succeed where punishment has failed. But Trump's apocalyptic rhetoric will merely inflate North Korea's self-righteousness. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.