International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Kenya’s counter-productive response to al-Shabaab

This article reports on the Kenyan government’s move to close traditional Somali hawala money transfer organizations in Kenya.  This is one of the first ways the government is “responding” to the al-Shabaab massacre of 148 Christian students in a Kenyan University, but it may be more detrimental than good.  The hawalas primarily serve Muslim communities and are a key bridge between nations.  Hawala’s “informality” in banking is built on fundamental principles of trust and reputation in order to ensure security and prevent fraud.  Many of the 2.5 million Somalis living in Kenya rely on the hawala transfers to send money home to support their families.  Currently, $1.6 billion a year is being sent to Somali families from the diaspora abroad.  This is half the nation’s GDP.

Even though there’s evidence that hawala transfers are also being used to sponsor terrorism, the closures are more likely to fuel radicalization that prevent it.  By directly hindering working many Muslims’ ability to make economic transactions, this will further alienate the community and could very well drive more to join al-Shabaab.  As one expert pointed out, hawalas are used by terrorist groups alongside peaceful Muslims because in many parts they are the only mode of money transfer available.  Research has suggested that outlawing hawala transfers will only force funding of terrorism to go further underground and difficult to track.

These closures will also have a direct impact on the ability of humanitarian groups to work in Somalia.  As the only means of transferring money in many areas, these groups may not be able to sustain their efforts without the hawala service.  Terrorist organizations are already operating outside of the law.  As long as they have grievances, they will use whatever means necessary to fund their terror efforts.  These closures will have the greatest impact on the honest – the diaspora working to support their family and humanitarian groups – because they rely on a trusted legal way to transfer money.

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