Vincent Defait of Le Monde spoke with Abdirashid Duale, Dahabshiil GCEO, and prepared the following report, translated from the original French, of him and the leading money transfer company he runs.
In the bedlam of the Hargeisa livestock market, where vendors are happy to see up close the man who gives them valuable micro-credits, his shoes get covered in dust. Abdirashid Duale does not care.
It’s been only two hours since I met the boss of Dahabshiil, one of the largest money transfer companies in Africa, appearing jovial, uncondescending.
In the streets of Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital, in the middle of the crowd and camels, his suit made for banking halls seems to belong to another era. The feet in the dust, Abdirashid knows. He has spent part of his childhood here.
“The May 27, 1988, I was in Burao, a town a few hundred kilometers of Hargeisa. It was a Friday morning … ” says the businessman, a little later, seated in the tranquil gardens of the Ambassador Hotel, home to the rare diplomats in Somaliland. “The rebel Somali National Movement launched an offensive against the army. Everywhere, it was only gunfire and bombs. Somalia burned … I will never forget Friday, May 27, 1998 … ”
Three days later, Abdirashid Mohamed fled with his father and the rest of the family, far from the city, among nomadic cousins. For several months, the boy slept under the trees.
In a country rising from the ashes, his father tried to revive the family business: Dahabshiil, “the gold smelter” in Somali language, importing goods from the Gulf countries for the Somali market.
The businessman went to Ethiopia, Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates. “There were Somalis everywhere who wanted to help their families back home. That’s how it all started, “says Abdirashid. Duale . “Father made the rounds of his compatriots, collecting money and the names and particulars of recipients, and then returned with a full bag of tickets. Round trips got increasing and increasing. Trust is the key to relationships between Somalis,” Abdirashid Duale said.
In 1989, the family crossed the border and settled in Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia. The small business grew. Distant cousins settled in New York or London served as point of collection of small amounts of money that ended up being distributed in refugee camps or across Somalia. Faxes and radio phones were operating at full capacity. “Everything was noted in a register, handwritten” recalls Abdirashid.
Two years later, in 1991, the regime of Somali President Siad Barre collapsed, the rebels proclaimed the independence of Somaliland and Abdirashid was sent to the UK.
“Initially to study, but I’ve never set foot in the university, said, with a laugh, the boss of one of the most influential companies in the African continent. I preferred to work, drive across the UK to meet our customers. I loved the Christmas period: there was no one on the roads. ”
The son was gradually taking the reins of the family business. Two decades later, Dahabshiil operates in 126 countries, including 40 in Africa, and has offices in London, Dubai and Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital… well beyond Somali circles: Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, South Sudan …
“All these countries have experienced war, he said. All have a diaspora that needs to help those back home. Dahabshiil is successful because it is an indigenous company, located deep in the continent. “A link, Abdirashid Duale repeats, between exiles and their roots.
But, following 11 September 2001, remittances operations come under scrutiny. World of terrorists are believed to benefit from the flexibility of the system. Dahabshiil was no exception.
After all, every year, 1.5 million Somalis living abroad send nearly one billion dollars in this part of the Horn of Africa, where Islamic militia spread terror. In 2013, Barclays Bank decides to close Dahabshiil accounts and other businesses of the same type.
“Today, the eyes of the world, we are regulated in the same way as Western Union or Money Gram. “Abdirashid Duale says smiling.
In Somaliland, Dahabshiil is experimenting with new services: an Islamic bank, microcredit … “A way to give back to the people, land what it has given us,” he explains.
In Hargeisa, the brand new premises of the company is near the monument to victims of the war and opens wide onto the main avenue.
Dapper and anachronistic in a city where one carries water to poor neighborhoods with carts pulled by donkeys. Dahabshiil’s boss is not afraid of contrasts.
Abdirashid, the innovative businessman.s history is that of Dahabshiil. He knows how to maintain his audience.
“The three cities I like are Burao, Dire Dawa and London. “Somaliland, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom” , in chronological order, of a long journey that saw him move back in Hargeisa three years ago.
“I travel 50% of my time”, he said.
His father Mohamed, who is now more than 70 years old works a little less and lives here, too.
Abdirashid Duale prefer to conclude the conversation with one last anecdote. That time he went incognito in a barbershop in Burao, his hometown.
“I like it, go in small restaurants, local hairdressers. This is where I get my ideas. I do not want a fake life. ”