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Braving the tide – New “E-cash” system helps a Mogadishu fisherman

In the past two decades, the city of Mogadishu in Somalia has experienced periods of extreme violence. Today however, Mogadishu is enjoying a period of relative calm. No longer do the streets ring with gunshots. These days the air is filled with the sound of nails being hammered into wooden planks, metal being welded and concrete being poured. Although there is still a long way to go, more than 300,000 people have returned to Mogadishu in the past six months to resurrect this once glorious city.

Isaak Ahmed, a 50 year old fishmonger, resides in Aw-Aweska, a small neighbourhood on the shores of the Mogadishu coast. Born in Jilib District, he moved to Mogadishu with his parents over 40 years ago. He and his wife Hawa are parents to eight children; the eldest 20 years old, the youngest is five.

Isaak and Hawa at home. Photo: Stella Madete/Oxfam
Isaak and Hawa at home

“We have been married for about 32 years – the exact number doesn’t come to mind,” he says with a smile. “Before we got married, we had seven years of serious love. She (his wife) might be 46, but she still looks 20 to me.”

Mogadishu was not always a violent town. Isaak speaks of the good old days when life was normal and the young couple were just starting out. They enjoyed life in the “Pearl of Africa”, as Mogadishu was known at the time. “We met when we were both in high school. I played a lot of sports, especially basketball and football,” Isaak said.

“During that time, people were recruited straight out of high school to work in the government ministries. I was eager to start my life and provide for my family, so I did not go to university. It was not necessary at the time. My wife Hawa trained to be a teacher and I joined the ministry of trade. Those were happy times,” he says. “Life was good.”

Unfortunately for Isaak and his family, war broke out in 1991 and with it came the collapse of the government and the jobs it provided. “Suddenly, my wife and I were out of jobs and had no means to care for our family. We did not have an income. This is when the hard life started,” he recalls. “Everything had changed.”

Since then, Isaak has been the sole bread winner of the family. To make ends meet, he took up fishing in the hope that the little catch he made would earn enough to provide for the family:

“The family has been surviving on the income I make selling fish at the market. This is usually not enough. My wife and I try and find odd jobs around to help sustain ourselves. This is a very hard life compared to what we had before.”

The life of a fisherman in Mogadishu is not easy. He longs for the old days, when fishing conditions were better and making a living was easier. Isaak holds onto hopes that maybe someday everything will be better in Somalia.

The E-Cash project to provide cash relief for families in need was led by Oxfam and Hijra in Mogadishu. The project was the first of its kind in the country, delivering $150 to 2,090 urban households. Nation Link provided free mobile phones to the selected recipients and trained them on how to use them to access the cash relief. Once registered, people received $150, and they could utilize the money as they deemed fit.

Hawa at home. Photo: Stella Madete/Oxfam
Hawa at home

When the cash was distributed, Isaak and Hawa used some of the money to buy food for their family. “I feel very lucky,” Isaak said. “We received this money during the holy month of Ramadhan. This is a very special time in our faith and it is important to celebrate it with family. I’m very grateful because we had something, I know some had nothing.”

Isaak and Hawa decided to invest in something more sustainable for the long run. “In order to ensure that we had something that would bring income when it was needed in the future, we bought five chickens to rear,” he said.

When asked about the new way of receiving cash relief, Isaak says that he prefers it to the previous method. “The E-cash system is better than the normal Hawala system. It saves a lot of time because we don’t have to wait in long lines. That time could be spent on the ocean, catching fish. I also prefer it because I can store money on my phone and only my wife and I have access to it. This keeps it safe. It’s also very easy to use because you don’t have to withdraw it, you can just pay directly from one account to another. I am also happy that I now have a phone,” he said.

Since 2007, Oxfam and Hijra have collaborated to provide support for Somali families in need through cash programming, and started the E-cash programme in mid 2012. However, this cash relief is not just about increasing family income. For Isaak, it is also about the changes experienced within the family:

“My wife and I are still together because we love each other.” he said. “We are not rich and we don’t own any property. We just have each other to get us through everything. It is reassuring to know that Oxfam and Hijra are willing to support us.”

This is the third of a series of reports from the E-cash programme in Somalia:

The weaver’s tale: Mobile money helps a colourful business in Mogadishu

E-cash and basketball dreams in Mogadishu

Watch Al Jazeera’s report: E-cash on the rise in Somalia

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Written by Madete Stella

Stella is Programme Information Officer for Oxfam in Somalia. She is based in Nairobi

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