Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy

Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy
Noura Hassan, a mother of three sits on a street corner cradling a satchel filled with a variety of regional and international currencies. (AFP)
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Updated 14 May 2021

Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy

Riyals, euros or dollars: Women money changers at heart of Djibouti’s street economy
  • The informal sector drives around two-thirds of economic activity in Djibouti

DJIBOUTI: They are a familiar sight on the busy streets of Djibouti: women clutching handbags bulging with dollars, euros, riyals and rupees, the money changers keeping the informal economy ticking over.
Perched on plastic chairs, feet propped on wooden steps, these “sarifley” as they are locally known are vital to the global cast of migrants, traders and soldiers passing through this tiny nation at the crossroads of Africa and Arabia.
Trading in money offers a safe, reliable way especially for women to feed their families, in a conservative country where they lag men in education and literacy.
“I have it all. Euros, English pounds, Turkish lira, dollars, Indian rupees, anything,” said Medina, who offered just her first name, flashing a purse she estimated held the equivalent of one million Djiboutian francs ($5,600/€4,700) in multiple currencies.
Customers and traders alike say that economic life would suffer a lot more friction without the money changers.
Camped at Rimbaud Square, overlooked by a grand mosque in the heart of Djibouti city, Medina and three other sarifley scan the bustling crowds for customers.
Before long a young man from Yemen, the war-torn country across the Bab-el-Mandeb strait from Djibouti, approaches in a flowing white tunic and turban, wanting to change Saudi riyals.
Medina exchanged a few words with the foreigner, tapped some calculations into her phone, then counted out a wad of crumpled Djiboutian francs retrieved from the depths of her bag.
“We bring Saudi riyals with us (to Djibouti) because our currency, with the war, keeps fluctuating all the time,” said the Yemeni, slipping away into the crowd as a police car crawled by.
Refugees from Yemen, migrants en route to the Gulf, foreign troops stationed in naval bases, Ethiopian truck drivers — Djibouti is a melting pot of cultures, and currencies, on the Horn of Africa.
“We also deal with Djibouti businessmen going abroad for their work, as well as foreigners and tourists,” said Noura Hassan, another sarifley in the capital.
When her husband died a decade ago, the mother-of-three started out with just her savings in francs, before acquiring more currencies.
Every day, Hassan refers to a printout from the local bank to gauge exchange rates and determines what to offer customers for the major currencies.
“It is a good job, and I am proud of it,” said the money changer, wearing a blue veil and black abaya, the traditional floor-length tunic worn by Muslim women.
In PK12, a busy neighborhood where many Ethiopians live, Ahmed jumped out of his tuk-tuk to change some Ethiopian birr on the roadside.
“The difference might be 10 or 20 francs, it’s not much,” said the rickshaw driver about the street rates compared to those officially on offer.
But those exchange offices are far away — whereas the sarifley are on every corner and marketplace.
“Without them, I would say that trade in PK12 would not be possible,” said Faiza, who sells khat, the popular narcotic plant that is a daily staple in Djibouti and other parts of the Horn.
“They make sure to feed their families ... We help each other like that,” the 25-year-old trader said.
The informal sector drives around two-thirds of economic activity in Djibouti, said researcher Abdoulkader Houssein Mohamed from the Djibouti Center for Studies and Research (CERD).
Of those engaged in the sector, three-quarters are women, he added.
Safety might be a concern, but in a country of just under one million inhabitants, even the capital feels like a village, the sarifley said — a reassurance when your line of work requires carrying bundles of cash on the streets.
Zahra, one sarifley in the city, said of thieves: “They don’t come near us. They are afraid.”
She also wasn’t too concerned about being scammed by a forger or unscrupulous seller trying to palm off counterfeit cash.
“Even if I was asleep and you handed me a forgery, I would know... Counterfeit cash, I’ll know. The real thing, I know. That’s my job isn’t it?“


Saudi Central Bank extends SME deferred payment program another 3 months

Saudi Central Bank extends SME deferred payment program another 3 months
Updated 8 min 26 sec ago

Saudi Central Bank extends SME deferred payment program another 3 months

Saudi Central Bank extends SME deferred payment program another 3 months
  • Program aims to support small and medium-sized enterprises still struggling due to the pandemic
  • More than 106,000 contracts have benefited since it was launched in March 2020 with a value of approximately SR167 billion

RIYADH: The Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) announced on Tuesday that it is extending a deferred payment program for a second time to help support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are still struggling during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
SAMA said the program — one of the bank’s initiatives to support private sector financing — will be extended for another three months from July 1 through Sept. 30.
The move is part of SAMA’s role in maintaining the stability of the financial sector, enabling it to promote economic growth and maintain employment levels in the private sector, especially within micro enterprises and other SMEs.
More than 106,000 contracts have benefited from the program since it was launched in March 2020 while the value of the deferred payments for those contracts has amounted to approximately SR167 billion ($44.5 billion).
SAMA has also offered a secured financing program for SMEs as more than 5,282 contracts have benefited from that program with a total financing value of more than SR10 billion, the bank said in a statement.
These programs are meant to support the private sector and the levels of liquidity in the financial sector. They enable financing agencies to provide support while mitigating the economic and financial effects on the SME sector, the bank said.
This is the second time SAMA has extended the two programs to support SMEs. It renewed the deferred payment program for three months last March, while it also extended the guaranteed financing program for an additional year until March 14, 2022.


Beirut is the world’s third most expensive city for expats

Beirut is the world’s third most expensive city for expats
Updated 22 June 2021

Beirut is the world’s third most expensive city for expats

Beirut is the world’s third most expensive city for expats
  • Living in the Lebanese capital as an expat has now become more expensive than living in Tokyo, Zurich, or Shanghai

DUBAI: Beirut has become the most expensive city for expats in the Middle East and North Africa region, and the third globally, based on the latest “Cost of Living” survey by consultancy Mercer.
Jumping 42 places in global rankings, Beirut has been at the center of Lebanon’s economic and political collapse, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the port explosion last year.
Living in the Lebanese capital as an expat has now become more expensive than living in Tokyo, Zurich, or Shanghai. Turkmenistan’s Ashgabat ranked first, in the list of most expensive cities for expatriates, followed by Hong Kong.
Mercer comes up with the annual list by comparing the cost of more than 200 items in each city, including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment.
Riyadh has become the most expensive city in the Gulf at 29th globally. Jeddah ranked 94th, the report showed.
Dubai dropped to 42nd in the list, down from 23rd last year, and Abu Dhabi ranked 56th from 39th a year earlier.
Other cities in the Gulf also became more affordable this year, the report revealed, with Bahrain dropping to 71st from 52nd, while Muscat fell to 108th from 96th. Kuwait City dropped two places to 115th and Qatar at 21 places to 130th.


Dubai government agency first to approve job titles for remote work

Dubai government agency first to approve job titles for remote work
Updated 22 June 2021

Dubai government agency first to approve job titles for remote work

Dubai government agency first to approve job titles for remote work
  • Remote work can now be done under normal circumstances, the department said

DUBAI: Dubai Municipality has become the first government agency in the UAE to approve job titles for remote work, state news agency WAM has reported.
Remote work can now be done under normal circumstances, the department said, parallel to its other work setups such as its shifting system.
The move comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has made private, and even public, workplaces rethink ways to continue their operations despite the crisis.
Workplace innovation is not new to Dubai Municipality, as it pioneered flexible work systems for government departments in the UAE in 2007.
The pandemic has also made the municipality accelerate its smart transformation, to make the remote work system effective.


Mubadala-owned GlobalFoundries invests $6bn amid worldwide chip shortage

Mubadala-owned GlobalFoundries invests $6bn amid worldwide chip shortage
Updated 22 June 2021

Mubadala-owned GlobalFoundries invests $6bn amid worldwide chip shortage

Mubadala-owned GlobalFoundries invests $6bn amid worldwide chip shortage
  • Tuesday’s expansion is in addition to the company’s previously announced plan to invest $1.4 billion in 2021 alone to expand its manufacturing capacity

SINGAPORE: Chipmaker GlobalFoundries said on Tuesday it will spend $6 billion to expand capacity at its factories in Singapore, Germany and the United States amid a chip shortage that is hurting automakers and electronics firms globally.
The US-based company, owned by Abu Dhabi’s state-owned fund Mubadala, said it will invest more than $4 billion in Singapore, and $1 billion each in the others over the next two years. The unlisted company’s Singapore operations contribute about a third of its revenue.
“I think the next five to eight years, we’re going to be chasing supply not demand as an industry,” GlobalFoundries CEO Thomas Caulfield told a media briefing. He added that the company was prioritising automotive customers.
Tuesday’s expansion is in addition to the company’s previously announced plan to invest $1.4 billion in 2021 alone to expand its manufacturing capacity.
The chip shortage, which began in earnest in late December, was caused in part by automakers miscalculating demand for semiconductors in the pandemic. It was aggravated by electronics manufacturers placing more chip orders as work-from-home practices fueled a surge in sales of computers and other devices.
Large chipmakers including Intel Corp. have warned that the shortage will last well into next year. Intel announced in March a $20 billion plan to expand its advanced chip making capacity, while Taiwan’s TSMC said in April it will invest $100 billion over the next three years.
As well, governments, including those of the United States and Japan, have intervened to urge faster supplies. Earlier this month, the United States approved $54 billion in funds to increase US production and research into semiconductors and telecom equipment.
Caulfield said funding for GlobalFoundries’ expansion plan included investments from governments and pre-payments from customers.
The $4 billion investment in Singapore is the first of a phased expansion program planned by the company for the next five to 10 years, the CEO said. He did not specify a total amount.
The new Singapore fab will add capacity of 450,000 wafers per year, taking the campus’s total to 1.5 million, and the company expects to begin production in early 2023. Most of the added production will come online by end 2023.
The factory will make chips for cars and 5G technology, with long-term customer agreements already in place. It will add about 1,000 jobs in Singapore.


Sudan to abolish official customs dollar exchange rate

Sudan to abolish official customs dollar exchange rate
Updated 22 June 2021

Sudan to abolish official customs dollar exchange rate

Sudan to abolish official customs dollar exchange rate
  • The customs dollar exchange rate has been problematic for importers historically as it has valued the local currency at a higher rate

RIYADH: Sudan has taken the decision to abolish the official customs dollar exchange rate, Asharq Business reported, citing unnamed sources.
Sudan’s Finance Minister Jibril Ibrahim earlier pledged that the government was committed to canceling the so-called customs exchange rate used to determine import duties. It comes amid ongoing fiscal reforms that have been encouraged by the International Monetary Fund and other donors.
The customs dollar exchange rate has been problematic for importers historically as it has valued the local currency at a higher rate than reflected by the black market.
Ibrahim said the government would press ahead with its liberalization program until the country’s economy recovered from previous distortions.
He also said that the subsidy for wheat, cooking gas and fuel oil that is used in the production of electricity will not be canceled this year.
Devaluing the currency is one of a number of economic reforms that Sudan hopes will help it emerge from an enduring economic crisis.