Hargeisa, 16 June 2009 — The dusty, potholed streets of Hargeysa in Somaliland are filled with battered cars and ambling pedestrians. The tangled birds’ nests of wires that cling to every telegraph pole are testament to a boom in telephony, informal stalls line the roads, selling imported goods and Ethiopia-grown khat, a plant chewed as a stimulant – and behind bricks of local currency sit the money changers.
It is a long way from Western Union’s pristine headquarters in Colorado or Moneygram’s in Minnesota, but not quite a different world. Here, in a perhaps unlikely northwestern corner of Somalia, is the home of a multimillion-dollar financial services company. One, indeed, that almost single-handedly keeps the East African country afloat.
Dahabshiil’s office in Hargeysa has the relaxed charm of many a family-run African business. As I arrived, Mohamed Saïd Duale, Dahabshiil’s founder and chairman, shuffled by in his sandals, a length of printed material wrapped around his waist and a short, traditional walking stick tucked under his arm. He made his way to a private office on the roof, where he sat cross-legged on the floor in front of a computer.
His company began as a small, informal organisation, helping Somalis to get money to their relatives in refugee camps in Ethiopia, charging a commission as it did so. Now it is an economic linchpin, connecting the wealthy Somali diaspora with the impoverished population at home.