News / Africa

Malians Shelter to Black Market to Transfer Cash

x
TEXT SIZE - +
Anne Look
BAMAKO, Mali - Cash has been in short supply in the northern Malian town of Gao since April when armed groups seized the town and looted banks, businesses and public buildings. The black market "Western Union" has become a lifeline to the North, allowing people to get money to their relatives in Gao within an hour.

The Binke Transport bus company ferries passengers daily from its bus station in Bamako to the occupied northern town of Gao. The journey takes about 18 hours.

However, if you go around to the side entrance behind the ticket counter, you will find a small office where you can get cash into the hands of your relatives or associates in Gao in a matter of minutes.

University student, Abourahamane Maiga, walks in. He needs to send $60 to his mother in Gao.

"How much? To whom?" asks Moussa Bathily, the unofficial manager of this unofficial business. Bathily takes down all the information on one row of a small lined ledger before folding Maiga's money into the neat wad of bills in his left hand. He sends a text message to his contact in Gao.

"Tell her to go see this man in one hour," he tells Maiga. "The money will be there."

Maiga says his mother needs to go to the market to buy food and other necessities.

He says this is the only way to get cash to her safely and quickly because all the banks in Gao are closed. He says there is food being sold in the markets at reasonable prices but she needs cash to buy it. He says he picks up odd jobs in Bamako to earn money. He says he and other northerners in Bamako cannot abandon their families.

This type of unofficial cash transfer system is not new to Binke Transport or other Malian bus companies. However, it has assumed newfound importance since April when armed groups seized control of the North, including Gao and two other key towns.

Hundreds of thousands have fled the region. Life for those who remained is increasingly difficult. Militants are imposing a hardline interpretation of sharia law that has included executions and amputations. Access to medical care is limited. Aid agencies say malnutrition is on the rise.

Residents of Gao say the al-Qaida-linked militants currently in control of that town are stocking the markets with food and other goods reportedly brought in illegally from Algeria. However, residents have little cash.

Bathily of Binke Transport says he takes in about 60 money transfers per day, a significant increase from before the crisis.

He says cash never physically passes between him and Binke's associates in Gao because there is too great of a security risk on the road.

The virtual transactions go in both directions.

A Bamako-based businessman, who preferred to give only his last name Cisse, comes in to collect $200 sent to him by his younger brother.

He says he will use the money to buy various products, in particular cell phones and the pay-by-the-minute cell phone credit scratch cards. He will ship the items to his brother in Gao that same day via Binke's package service so his brother can sell them or deliver them to people who placed special orders.

Bathily said Binke does charge a small fee per transfer - this is a business after all - but it is still less than what an established company would charge and is primarily intended to cover expenses like what he said can be long phone calls to sort out the occassional accounting error.

As Bathily processes transactions, no receipts are given.

He says people have been using this system for a long time and it is based on trust. He says people joke that the Binke bus station is the embassy of Gao, a hub of communication. Northerners, he said, tell him they come by when they are homesick and want to run into familiar faces from back home.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid