Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Making Change in Peru: Big Bills, Financialized Development, and the Potentializing Limits of Fungibility (Part 2)

By IMTFI researcher Eric Hirsch

At the core of my IMTFI-based investigation were the cash experiments I conducted with market vendors in the Chivay market in Peru, as I began describing in my previous post. I have been longitudinally tracking fifteen of these market vendors over the course of a year. Fourteen of them are women, and one is a man. With each, I have routinely purchased inexpensive items with a 50 or 100-sol bill; as vendors decided on various strategies for completing (or calling off) each purchase and making change, I interviewed them, asking them to describe what they were doing as they took the intermediate steps to make change. In addition to the tie-forging and strengthening effects I found to be an immediate result of a vendor’s making change by drawing on one’s market vendor colleagues, I also learned that many vendors would earmark big bills “for savings” and larger expenses, as Reina told me. They are reserved for the “bolsa familiar,” or diverted toward large purchases like painting the house or supporting her daughter’s university education. Making change, furthermore, is an obligation when one is able: the few vendors in the market who refuse to do this lose later opportunities for help from their neighbors with making change and offering supplies when something runs out.

Big bills, as other vendors told me, tended to enter the market and circulate at much higher rates when the Colca Valley became a popular site for mainstream tourism, which began over the last two decades in the wake of major infrastructure projects in Colca and Peru’s national reopening to the world following decades of internal violence. The place has found an increasingly prominent place on the tourist map over the past fifteen years, as attractive for the beauty of its canyon as for the living Collagua and Cabana culture (two local ethnicities that date back to the years before Inca rule) its people are putting on display. Thus, the presence of big bills might even be seen as an indicator of the effort by municipalities and non-governmental organizations in the region to revalorize indigenous culture and, more generally, of the region’s increasing inclusion in national and transnational economic networks.

Making change at Brígida's breakfast stand. Photo by author.
I also compared the market scene with two other case study sites for observing the sociocultural ramifications of money’s non-fungible dimensions. I looked at a small association of homestay tourism entrepreneurs in the Colca Valley community of Yanque, a group of four families, in which profits, costs, and customers are sometimes shared as a collective. At the same time, I have been longitudinally analyzing the use of big bills as part of one rural household’s long-term savings practices. I found similar results in these sites. The tourism business cooperative works in a way that the profits and development project investments it receives often come in the form of unwieldy cash denominations, which means that association members rarely, if ever, equally possess the same actual amount of money in a given moment, even though the organization technically shares its profits. In order to do so, the cooperative’s president must make an “activation purchase,” using a big bill to buy a small thing in order to transform the profit into a more fungible, division-friendly pile of cash units. This almost compulsory purchase, meant to keep that large cash unit moving, directly connects the association to the broader local economy, stimulating the economy through its consistent supply of purchases (however small). The association also presents a site of longer-term collateralized profit holding, in which relationships and alignments within the group are constantly reinforced by the fact that somebody is owed and somebody owes all of the time.

If the first two case studies reveal that big bills clearly mediate social relations, the household I have been following sheds more light on how large cash denominations help to organize savings practices. This household consists mainly of an elderly couple, the two family members who actually live in the house. Their resources also often extend to the larger local family of adult children and grandchildren, many of whom are their neighbors. Big bills, here, have tended to become long-term savings and value storage devices. This became clear one day when the couple sold some 400-soles of alpaca wool: they told me that the four 100-sol bills would be safely stored until the time came to make a major repair to the house or a large community expense, such as access to the irrigation system for their farmland. The bigger the bill, the better hidden it tends to be. These big bills tend to be used as a kind of portable savings box, storing deactivated latent value, kept in safe hiding spots in the home. As value storage tools, big bills orient a family in space by structuring its members’ obligations and investments in the broader community, and also in time as a long-term savings device, by helping that couple configure its relationship to the future, imagine the most significant expenditures they will face in the coming years, and plan the wealth and resources they will pass on to their children.

The Chivay market. Photo by author.
Together, these sites help us begin to answer important questions about the everyday practices that surround the usage of money. How mobile is cash? Are big, unwieldy cash denominations like the 50 or 100-sol bill uniquely mobile, or uniquely stationary, in rural market centers like Andean Peru’s Chivay? In this past year’s IMTFI conference, Scott Mainwaring pointed out that the use of big bills in Colca suggests a concept of cash “heaviness.” There, small coins (especially the 1-sol and 5-sol piece) are the most desirable units. They make market transactions and small purchases easy. They are light. They move quickly. In contrast, the much “heavier” big bills do very different things. They present unwelcome moments and challenges that force vendors and entrepreneurs to draw on a limited store of social capital. They keep value in one place. They move either very slowly or very quickly. Both kinds of cash units hook actors up to what Viviana Zelizer calls broader “circuits of commerce” (2011), but each lays out a different pathway into those circuits.

So, thinking about the rich social dimensions of ordinary, everyday cash use at the micro level suggests that fungibility is not an automatic function of money, but money’s goal. Fungibility is something that must be achieved. Cash denominations can perhaps be imagined as falling on a fungibility spectrum, ranging from “immediately fungible” on one end, to “fungible through extensive intersubjective mediation” on the other. The many intermediate steps one often needs to take to achieve money’s fungibility in Colca are socially significant, culturally generative, and ethnographically revealing.

The implications of this idea also go beyond cash exchanges, illuminating some of the key puzzles of mobile money technology and the essential questions surrounding the idea of alternative currencies that preoccupies the IMTFI. However mobile it may be, money is not purely liquid. The social and political structures surrounding money, always a partially liquid medium, reveal a bigger picture of the contexts of financial inclusion and exclusion in which that money comes to be at work. They also offer an avenue for broadening the reach, and deepening the impact, of development interventions engaged in the effort to stimulate local economies to be more equal and more just. As my investigation has illustrated, those initially unwelcome transactions that lead to hesitation, conversation, and the use of social ties to lubricate what will always be an imperfect medium of exchange have much to tell us about how money comes to be at work in everyday decisions about what is important.

References

Zelizer, Viviana. 2011. Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Read Eric's full research report here.
Read Making Change in Peru (Part 1) 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Making Change in Peru: Big Bills, Financialized Development, and the Potentializing Limits of Fungibility (Part 1)

By IMTFI researcher Eric Hirsch

In a December post on the IMTFI blog, Dr. Liz Losh, a UCSD-based media scholar who live blogged IMTFI’s 2013 Conference, referred to the “inherently unwelcome nature” of my research experiments for exploring cash use in an Andean market town. Why might this research have been so unwelcome, at least at first? As part of my broader investigation into how development projects have become engaged in stimulating the cultivation of indigenous identity and putting that identity to work toward creating more economic vibrancy in Andean Peru, I tried to get a better sense of what development actually means at the level of cash changing hands. For my project, that meant repeated attempts to purchase relatively inexpensive items—avocado sandwiches, vegetables, socks, and other wares being sold in the Chivay market—with large cash bills, namely, 50 and 100-sol notes (about $17.50 and $35, respectively).

I set vendors on this potentially annoying task to find out how fungible cash really is in practice. Of course, in theory, money is fungible: any five dollars is mutually interchangeable with any other five dollars, and the same goes for one-hundred soles, two-thousand rupees, and any other money amount. Conceptually, it does not matter what notes or denominations or media might be used to compose that particular amount of value. That’s one of the reasons why money has been so important throughout modern history. As a medium of exchange, money has lubricated countless economic transactions. It has long been seen as a technology that eliminated the cumbersomeness of barter. And much more recently, money has taken on even more liquid forms, from credit to today’s mobile money platforms, a core interest of IMTFI. Because of this liquidity, as social theorists have long argued, economic interaction has become so seamless that it has almost completely ceased to be something social.

The central market of Chivay. Photo by author.
Yet if buying things with money were really so easy, why would my research experiments be so unwelcome? If cash use strips the economic interaction of its social component, why did my annoying attempts to purchase small items with burdensome big bills find relief in vendors’ social ties?

This research attends to the non-fungible dimensions of those big bills. Based on what I have found, I argue that in Colca big bills often cannot be spent without the mediation of certain social relations. In other words, a bill’s denomination, or the unit of value it designates (for example, 10 soles, 20 soles, or 50 soles), is sometimes a structural obstacle to cash fungibility: a 50-sol bill can’t always be used to buy a 3-sol bag of tomatoes, and even if it can, the exchange can’t happen immediately if the vendor does not have the right amount of change to return to the buyer. And as a structural obstacle, denomination actually ends up coloring market exchanges, making them more human, more intimate, and even more political than standard social scientific approaches to exchange would have us imagine. This research builds on a number of recent anthropological studies—notably work by Jessica Cattelino (2009), Julie Chu (2010), Bill Maurer (2005), as well as an upcoming collaboration with institute affiliates Anthony Pickles, Vivian Dzokoto, and Taylor Nelms—suggesting that exchanges of money could be key moments of forging social ties, ordinary self-making, cultural value creation, and articulating a broader political orientation.

When I would give a 100-sol note for a 3-sol item to one of the market vendors I have been following, I set for them a temporarily unpleasant task—making change—that was both time-intensive and entailed drawing on one’s ties and social networks within the market. They would, in rare moments, tell me that they could not make change, preventing the transaction (a process that can lead, in the aggregate, to significant loss, as Beaman, Magruder, and Robinson [2014] pointed out in a study of Kenyan market vendors). Usually, though, to complete the sale, vendors would initiate the process of creating change in one of two ways. If they had the smaller denominations on hand, they would simply put the change together themselves. More often, though, they would run to a market neighbor or nearby friend to ask if they could sencillar—a Spanish word that means “to simplify” but idiomatically also means “to make small change” (or sencillo)—their large bill.

Peru's 100-sol bill. Photo by author.
One morning, I attempted to purchase two small avocado sandwiches from Reina, one of the breakfast cart vendors I had been following. She was able to make change, but saw my use of a 100-sol bill as an opportunity to urge me to purchase more, so that the change-making process would be slightly less burdensome for her. Hesitating before closing the exchange, she asked, “¿Dos no más?” “Just two?” Here, the large bill afforded a chance for salesmanship. She wanted me to sweeten the deal, making clear the social element of the exchange actually made it a more profitable one. Brígida, another vendor who tends to ask a small selection of friends for help making change, told me that large cash denominations were like any new tool. People simply had to learn how to use them.

So, as a structural obstacle, denomination becomes fungibility’s “potentializing limit,” as Justin Richland puts it (2011). The vendor’s need to figure out how to make change opens up what I have noticed is a productive moment of hesitation. The customer may also hesitate, deciding not only whether to buy something and what to buy, but also, what configuration of coins and bills she or he will use to pay for it, considering the cash she or he will have later that day. These moments of hesitation allow for many parallel interactions to happen: casual conversation that enables customer and vendor to strengthen their alliance, which could play a role in fostering customer loyalty; a moment in which one of the actors is waiting on the other, allowing the vendor to complete another sale; or a pause in which the vendor or customer can observe what else is going on by the town square, and tune in to the broader public culture. Of course, moments of hesitation can also cause harm, bringing about distraction that can leave a vendor or customer vulnerable to robbery (something very rare in Chivay) or miscounting.

Yet overall, I found that the interactional moments afforded by the need to economically “activate” the value of large bills by making change, however initially annoying, tended to create and reinforce relationships between customer and vendor, between a vendor and colleagues in the market, and between market actors and the larger public of the market town.

References

Beaman, Lori, Jeremy R. Magruder, and Jonathan Robinson. 2014. Minding Small Change among Small Firms in Kenya. Journal of Development Economics 108(C): 69-86. (accessible here: http://www.povertyactionlab.org/publication/minding-small-change-among-small-firms-kenya)

Cattelino, Jessica. 2009. Fungibility. American Anthropologist 111(2): 190-200.

Chu, Julie Y. 2010. Cosmologies of Credit: Transnational Mobility and the Politics of Destination in China. Durham: Duke University Press.

Maurer, Bill. 2005. Mutual Life, Limited: Islamic Banking, Alternative Currencies, Lateral Reason. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Richland, Justin B. 2011. Hopi Tradition as Jurisdiction: On the Potentializing Limits of Hopi Sovereignty. Law & Social Inquiry 36(1): 201-234.

Read Eric's full research report here.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Lessons from the Field: M-Shwari and the Jua Kali in Kenya

MSEA's Jua Kali site in Kisumu, Kenya (Photo by Ndunge Kiiti)
By IMTFI Researchers Ndunge Kiiti, Jane Mutinda, and Charles Nzioka

Out with the old, in with the new?
When it comes to new technologies, it’s easy to make the argument, “Out with the old; in with the new!” Well, in Kenya, that’s not quite true. The trend one sees is an increase of new mobile money networks and technologies to help complement the traditional microfinance institutions and banks. The ‘new’ usually comes with new products or services, and Kenya has had its share. M-Shwari is one of those ‘newer’ mobile-based services offered to M-Pesa customers, especially small-to-medium-sized informal businesses—or the ‘Jua Kali’ (‘hot sun’ in Swahili) sector as it’s called in Kenya. Launched in November 2012 by Safaricom, Vodafone, and Commercial Bank of Africa, M-Shwari is a paperless form of financial transaction that offers individuals the ability to save and borrow with their phones.

What was the research about?
The three researchers—Dr. Jane Mutinda (Kenyatta University, Kenya), Dr. Ndunge Kiiti (Houghton College, New York), and Professor Charles Nzioka (University of Nairobi, Kenya)—set out to discover the uses and impact of M-Shwari as a financial inclusion banking product in urban and rural areas of Kenya. We visited eight counties in four regions of Kenya—Western (Kisumu & Bondo); Coastal (Mombasa Town & Kaloleni); Nairobi (Westlands and Eastlands); and Eastern (Machakos & Embu). In each region, the first location listed represents the ‘urban’-based focus and the second represents the more ‘rural.’ The Micro and Small Enterprises Authority (MSEA) were our hosts in each of the counties. With an introductory letter in hand from the Director of MSEA Headquarters in Nairobi, county-level coordinator facilitated our access to the SME owners, and were each interviewed for the research as well.

In the end, what’s the value added?
There are numerous value propositions for this type of research. First, there is limited existing information and data on the use of M-Shwari in Kenya. Second, the understanding of this product, from the demand perspective—especially the Jua Kali sector—will provide insight for service providers, policymakers, and other institutions. The Jua Kali sector is a key part of economic growth in Kenya. Thus, mobile money technology that improves this sector’s business opportunities for both savings and loans will impact Kenya’s economic growth.

Piloting the research instruments with craft artisans in
Embakasi, Nairobi (Photo by Ndunge Kiiti)
What did the research entail?
A central component of this research was a training program for the fifteen research assistants who were recruited from several universities and programs in Kenya to help us with the field work. The students represented all the ethnic backgrounds of the eight counties where we were collecting data. The training curriculum included: mixed methodologies–qualitative (in-depth and focus group interviews) and quantitative; instrument review; field practice and piloting of instruments; and transcription. The workshop was facilitated in partnership with Dr. Monique Hennink of Emory University’s School of Public Health in Atlanta. One participant had this to say about the training: “Overall the content and the teaching method as well as the field practice were highly valuable. The notes given were also very appropriate.” The training paid off. The students were well-prepared in the data collection process, demonstrating impressive interviewing and facilitation skills with great cultural sensitivity and appropriateness. The process was also a great opportunity to reinforce IMTFI’s mission of building the capacity of individuals and institutions within their own countries so that they are capable of carrying out relevant research that informs policies and practices to ensure sustainable development.

What did we learn while in the field?
Interviewing research respondents at their place of work
(Photo by Ndunge Kiiti)
Well … a lot. But we’ll share a couple of lessons learned that were reinforced here. First, from the training aspect, it’s critical to have research assistants that speak the necessary vernacular and the national language representing the populations where data will be collected.  Additionally, using the methodologies in role plays as part of the training is essential before doing the pilot. From the actual data collection process, when working with the Jua Kali sector time is very important. Taking them away from their businesses often means income lost. Thus, even for research, it is important to meet them where they are and sometimes that means doing interviews at their businesses.

Were there any new discoveries? What do we know now that we didn’t before?
The research is still ongoing. We have collected all of the data, and currently all of the focus group discussions and in-depth interviews are being transcribed. Based on the questions that we asked, there will be insights about: the type of marketing approach that best communicates M-Shwari; patterns of product usage in terms of loans and savings; opportunities and challenges associated with the product; and dimensions of inclusion and exclusion in the process.

What are the next steps?
Some of the more immediate next steps include: completing transcription of the qualitative data; entering and analyzing the quantitative data; data analysis, synthesis, and writing up of findings; workshop for dissemination of findings to policymakers, service providers, the Jua Kali sector, researchers, various institutions, government, and other stakeholders; reports, presentations, and publications.

How will the research be disseminated?
Various avenues for dissemination include: stakeholder workshop, conference presentations, video and publications (reports and articles); etc.

We are excited about our research so far, and look forward to sharing our findings in the future.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Banking with the Patron: The Case of Patron-Client Relations in Makassar, Indonesia

By IMTFI researchers Tiar Mutiara Shantiuli & Salmah Said

There is a general acceptance that the growth of rural financial institutions in Indonesia will increase the access people have to formal banking. However, the growth of these rural financial institutions is developing alongside a (long-standing) informal lending system: the patron-client relationship. We examined to what degree this informal patron-client lending system persists. We found that these patron-client relationships still exist even in the areas with intensive rural-financial institutions in Makassar, Indonesia. From the sub-regencies of Pacinongan, Panakkukang, and Panampu, we select 6 patron-client relationships in different businesses including sea cucumber fish, game centers, calfskin crackers, land plot sales, garages, and fried shallots. The sea cucumber fish business has lasted for two generations, while the others are one generation old. The game center is new and is run by students. All are similar in the informality of their labor relations (recruitment, types of duties, hours of work, and wages). In general, there is a fixed wage directly related to the main job or revenue, with some additional wages related to additional tasks (e.g. housework). As Ahimsa-Putra (2007) noted, the presence of additional transactions is observed in all of these patron-client relationships. Recruitments could be based on: kinship, the origin of the business owner, recommendation by an existing worker, neighborhood proximity, or friendship.


Daeng Munding with son, nephew, and friend’s son
working at calfskin cracking business.
The patronage relationship begins with worker recruitment. The recommendation of existing workers, family ties, and friendship enables the business owner to connect with workers. Recruitment proceeds depending on the needs of the employer. It could be more swift and direct if new workers are found via family ties and the recommendations of existing workers. Or, it could take longer and require more processing because the business owner needs to ensure that the new worker will not disrupt the existing working environment. The importance of a workforce’s harmony is attested to by one game center worker’s statement that the joyfulness of working is the most important reason why they stay.

One of the cucumber sea fish workers told us that when they make their trip from Central Sulawesi to work on Kodingareng Island in South Sulawesi, they usually bring family members with them as new recruits. With permission from the employer, those family members are recruited to work as divers. Usually, it costs the employer around 10 million Rupiah (about $818USD) to hire a new recruit, which covers their transport and the living costs of the family back in Central Sulawesi. Even though this initial money is thought of as a loan, the worker never actually pays off the debt, making it harder for the employee to leave. 

Since the workers also live with the business owner and the main activities on the job do not absorb all of the workers’ time, they must be willing to take on a variety of unspecified tasks. However, the owner does not just add to the worker's duty, but also offers in-kind rewards such as shelter, food, holidays, and paying for other unexpected expenses. This helps to develop a mutual dependency between the worker and the business owner. The garage and the fried shallot businesses are an exception to this pattern, as the workers are the neighbors and do not stay with the business owner. Still, additional duties to the main labor tasks (or “additional transactions”; Ahimsa 2007) are observed in these businesses.

Daeng So’na working at her fried shallot business 
with her neighbor. 
The inexact working hours, and the closeness of habitation, build up trust between the business owner and the worker. In addition, the closeness of their habitation and the informality of their contract make the relation less like an employee-employer relation, and more like a family one.  Even in the case of exact job descriptions, the informality still endures in the rewards/payment aspect of the relationship. Such an informal relationship between the workers and the business owner can also be observed in the case of young businesses. Even though their connections might not be as old and living as close, the kind of duties they do are not always related to the main business.
Nahar, the game center owner, said that the business does not have a fixed work schedule. It depends on who has spare time, as they are university students. There is no fixed salary, as it depends solely on the everyday rental income of games. Yet, he told us, “In spite of the uncertain income they get everyday, they do enjoy working in this game center because of their friendship and they are willing to offer any help to me whenever I need them inside or outside of the games center.”
In all of our selected cases, the business owner is a resource that helps solve the financial needs of the worker. As with the informality of the working relationship, lending and borrowing are also carried out informally. Even though the rotating savings association, local cooperatives, and banks are familiar to them, the workers prioritize the employer as the primary lender from which to borrow. It seems that the flexibility and mutual aid attached to the loan and its repayment are the key reasons for those preferences.

In the land plot selling business we were told that the basic salaries for the marketers is a weekly payment between 200.000-250.000 Rupiahs (about $16-$20USD), plus daily pocket money of either 20.000, 30.000 or 35.000 Rupiahs (about $1.60, $2.45, $2.86 USD). As a bonus, the marketer earns a fee of around 2.500.000 Rupiahs ($204.50USD), if the buyers pay in cash, and around 1.000.000 Rupiahs ($81USD) if the buyers pay in periodic installments. While the workers stay in their boss’s house, she provides for daily expenses (food, cigarettes, etc.). Doubtlessly, these workers also do housework. The informality also persists in cases where workers need extra money. Borrowing is always to the boss. It is not clear how the marketers pay her back, but we gather from our investigation that she acts almost like a mother to them.

In the fried shallot business and the game center, banks are used for saving and for transferring payment. When the game center business grows, the owners plan to use workers who have more formal contracts. Thus, when the informality and mutual aid motives fade, the likelihood of using formal banking institutions increases. 

You can read Tiar Mutiara Shantiuli & Salmah Said's full report here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fall Newsletter

It’s been a busy year for financial inclusion, mobile money, and IMTFI. Our latest newsletter has a wrap-up on all our work on money, technology, and financial inclusion. With 21 new projects funded in 2014, we now have a total of 123 projects in 41 countries, with support for over 160 researchers since our founding in 2008. Our researchers have published new books, tons of articles and reports, and are exploring new formats for the dissemination of their research results as well as for the provision of financial education. Take a look at our new executive summary of our research to date on gender and financial inclusion, "Snapshots of Gender and Financial Inclusion". We were also recognized by The Guardian as one of the top ten financial inclusion Twitter streams—so, if you’re not doing so already, please follow us!

More...

If you didn't get the newsletter sent to your inbox but would like future notifications you can subscribe here. 




Friday, November 7, 2014

Michael Joyce on the launch of G2P e-payments in Indonesia


Michael Joyce—Mobile Money Policy Advisor with TNP2K—reported this week about Indonesia’s launch of G2P e-payments, in what is being heralded as one of the country’s largest pushes yet toward financial inclusion. We look forward to Michael sharing his insights with us at the IMTFI Sixth AnnualConference in December.

To read more about these exciting new developments, click here for Michael’s post at Mobile Money Asia.

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Standing on One Leg": Making Decisions in Troubled Times

By IMTFI Researcher Gianluca Iazzolino

"Hal lug ayeynu ku taaganahay," Somali refugees say. “We stand on one leg.”

This effective metaphor conveys the precariousness and volatility that permeate the daily experiences of refugees. Standing on one leg implies the possibility of falling, but also the potential to move. It is a state of suspension, where every signal must be caught and decoded, because from that may depend safety and survival, for oneself, one’s family, one’s livelihood. Indeed, the idea of contingency was at the centre of my research proposal when I first came to Eastleigh, the Nairobi estate dubbed Little Mogadishu for the conspicuous presence of Somali people, either refugees or Kenyan citizens. I was thinking of the contingency which has been defining Somali mobility patterns since the Somali state collapsed in 1991. Yet, in the months ahead, the concept acquired a dramatic actuality.

Indeed, these are tough times for Somali refugees in Kenya.

Kisenyi. Photo by author.
Since the Kenyan government became embroiled in the Somali conflict in 2011, the whole Somali community in the country (encompassing both Somali Kenyans and refugees) has been increasingly portrayed by politicians and media alike as a potential fifth column of Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda affiliated Somali organization. After invading Southern Somalia, officially to prevent terrorist infiltrations, Kenya has conjured up the very demon it aimed to exorcise: a spat of terror attacks (culminating with the raid of Al-Shabaab gunmen in Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in September 2013) that has shed blood and triggered ethnic profiling, and given free rein to corrupt police to abuse and extort money from refugees. Refugee mobility has increasingly been restricted to camps and a massive security swoop, operation “Usalama Watch,” has lead to round ups and deportations to Somalia. Many, particularly the youth, are moving to Uganda, where a progressive refugee act allows refugees to circulate freely. 

Financial practices have a crucial role in decision-making strategies against this volatile background. The long-established hawala system enables businessmen to move capital to new areas where trade opportunities are flourishing, such as Kampala, Kigali in Rwanda, the DRC border and, until recently, Juba in South Sudan. At the same time, the usage of Safaricom M-Pesa mobile money across borders facilitates the transfer of small amounts to sustain students and small businesses between Kenya and Uganda. The way the two infrastructures are used and interwoven reflects the importance of cultivating multiple financial options to respond to unpredictable situations.   

Eastleigh. Photo by author.
The story of Abdiqadir Cali is a vivid example of how this combination occurs in practice. I first met him in the Bangkok mall, one of the many trade centres that are the landmarks of Eastleigh. He was 26 years old, had a refugee card and a reputation as a computer wizard. He had flown to Kenya in 2009 after the Islamist militias of Al Shabab had captured the city of Baidoa, in Bay region, Southern Somalia, where he was born and where his family still lives. He spent a few months in his cousins’ house in Mandera, on the Kenyan side of the border, and then, driven by the desire to get formal education, moved to Eastleigh. Once again, some relatives offered him hospitality and a little financial help with which he enrolled in a technical institute. After a year, though, his funding dried up and he was forced to withdraw. Yet, he had discovered that he was particularly talented in resurrecting laptops and computers. “Let’s ask Abdi” became the immediate reaction to a crashed system, and his name – and mobile number – started travelling via word-to-mouth or SMS. It thus spread outside Eastleigh, Nairobi and eventually Kenya, spurring a flood a job offers from as far as Mombasa and Kampala. His customers were mostly Somalis and a few Kenyans and Arabs from the coast, all wanting him to fix their apparently dead devices, packed and shipped by bus to Eastleigh. Abdiqadir Cali became busy dismantling and reassembling laptops and PCs, constantly informing his customers about this or that spare part to purchase, payment upfront. The money was sent through M-Pesa and Abdiqadir Cali used his mobile phone as a wallet, through which he received payments and where he stored his monthly allowance. In fact, he had his savings somewhere else: each month, he transferred a sum to his family back in Baidoa using Dahabshiil, a major hawala company. He thus converted the KSh received through M-Pesa in USD and deposited the amount in a local branch of Dahabshiil, which made it immediately available to the designated recipient in Baidoa. “I keep tab of my transfers and my mother takes care of my money”, he said. “One day, I will use it to start a business.” In the meantime, though, his savings were shoring up his family’s livelihood and fostering his siblings’ mobility aspirations: one of them was set to move to Kampala, tapping into his older brother’s little wealth to fund his journey.

I got in touch with him after the Kenyan police launched the crackdown. He told me that he had been arrested by the police and forced to pay the equivalent of 50 USD to avoid deportation to the Daadab refugee complex. Now, he was planning to follow his brother to Kampala, where in recent years a new Little Mogadishu has grown in the slum of Kisenyi. He was confident that in Uganda he would be able to rely on his hawala account and even to expand his customer base in the country and in neighbouring countries.

“When you are standing on one leg, you need to move,” he said, “if you don’t want to fall down.”

Read more in Gianluca Iazzolino's final report, "Contingency Routes: Somali Flows and Transnational Spaces between Kenya and Uganda."