Somaliland is not only a pioneer as a cashless country but as one of the leading markets in mobile banking platforms in Africa. The phenomenon is not only revolutionising the people’s concept of money but also the way urgently needed assistance is provided to affected people in emergency situations.
When disaster hits somewhere in the developing world, the conventional wisdom is to look to international humanitarian organisations for assistance. But not anymore. Not if one takes the recent drought that devastated Somalia as any indication. Instead of the humanitarian organisations, it was the Somali Diaspora remittance and modern mobile money transfer technology that teamed up to provide urgently needed relief aid to the tens of thousands of nomadic people that lost their livelihoods.
In a scenario that is reminiscent of Adam Smith’s metaphor of the “invisible hand” which explains how free market dynamics make things happen for the greater good of society, the victims of Somalia’s recent drought saw that invisible hand come to their rescue through ZAAD, the mobile money transfer service, provided by the local telecommunications company, Telesom
While local authorities of the self-declared state of Somaliland, where ZAAD service is based, were stretched beyond their capacity to shelter, feed and provide water to the thousands of people displaced by the drought, and the international community was procrastinating in their response, it was ZAAD, which means “journey provisions” in both Somali and Arabic, that inadvertently came to the comfort of the people through its unique and highly efficient mobile-to-mobile money transfer system.
It was during a conversation with a friend in Dubai that I realised just how vital this service is in saving lives. He had received a call from his nomad relatives who informed him that they had moved from Somaliland’s hinterland across the border to Ethiopia in search of water and fodder for the remaining herd of their livestock. As soon as they reached their destination they called him for help and having a ZAAD account on his phone he immediately transferred cash to them from the comfort of his office. The family had, without stepping out of their camp, ordered water and food over the phone from the shops of the nearest village and paid for it by phone transfer.