Ponzi schemes also known as pyramid schemes- named after the Italian fraudster, Charlie Ponzi- are effortless to set off; no education, no investments, no nothing but just a creative brain. The scheme is easy to conduct and veil from scrutiny as long as you have in-cash flow. You pay interest rates/returns to earlier investors and as long as there is money flow coming into the system you are safe. In most cases the payments you make to your creditors are higher than market value and as such no suspicion. By and large a ponzi scheme is an affinity crime in which the con artist targets members of an identifiable group based on race, age, religion, etc.
In modern time, the most well known Ponzi scheme is the one conducted by Maddof whose scheme involved nearly 50 billion US dollars. His victims included pensioners from Jewish communities, Hollywood celebrities and a number of charities. Another well known ponzi scheme was that which brought Albania to its feet in the 1990s. An economic advisor to the PM, Hajdin Sejdia, initiated the scheme. It is estimated that this fraud cashed in about 2 billion dollars in a country who GDP is in the same range.
Ponzi schemes and somalis
If you have fared outside our “qatar aan nahay” “islaan baan nahay” bubble you may realise that in the diaspora we are described as ; war mongers, welfare cheats, morons, pirates etc . However, what people forget is that somalis are very creative and are generally known for being resourceful, without putting much effort.
Our people are Ponza schemers;
There are several cases of ponzi schemes created and run by somalis; your correspondent witnessed one in London involving women. Through trust cemented in a Ayuuto, two-three women got together and commenced a scheme. The people in the top pyramid were making a lot of money. After a few months, a few new entrants at the bottom came to realise that they stood to lose a lot of money unless they lured others into the scheme and hitherto did not blow the whistle. When after a few more months, a few in the bottom were approached by relatives they blew the whistle. It was settled in the grand old somali version; those who gained from the scheme were asked to pay. Afar faataxo, walaalan nahay was enough!
Apart from the above scheme which was tiny in scope and scale (involved about 100 pounds/person), there are several ponzi schemes out there. Mainly, these schemes involve real estate or Xawaala; Dalsan and more recently Qaran express are two examples of Xawaalahs that ceased to exist when those at the top emptied the coffers.
In the last few decades you have probably witnessed people buying/leasing apartments in Dubai. Every Xalimo or Faarax who has lived in the west and accumulated some wealth through deceit means – yes deceit because these schemes involve easy money- has bought an apartment that does not exist; all you need is an architectural plan and a computer aided design. Normally, the fraudsters lease a plot of land in Dubai and get a CAD copy. In order to raise funds they target respectable people in society; grand mothers/fathers who are too afraid to buy a home in the Diaspora because of social security fraud, insecure Xalimos or people who have made legitimate money and want to invest for their children’s future.
Equally, if you have ever visited Nairobi, you are likely to have walked into a real estate broker’s office – mainly in the same building as the hotel you live in. You may notice the computer aided design of bungalows on the wall, detached and semi detached houses; the quran recitation which speaks to your heart and the pious looking owners greeting you with Asalamu calaykum akhi and telling you to buy a home in Mombasa or Nairobi’s Athi River area.
So what does it take to engage in Ponzi scheme ala somali? In my opinion you need the following ingredients:
a)Islamic discourse; a bearded and on the onset a pious man to be the salesman. In every of his sentence he will use sentences such as “dhulk gaalada ka soo guur”. He blinds your rational judgment by claiming that sheikh hebel and sheikh hebel have endorsed/bought and or blessed the endeavour; that everything is xalaal and that you can trust him. He tells you that all you need is to pay is an advance of xx dollars and voula you have a house where you can pray!
b)Ayuuto; this is a big investment portfolio which on the one hand is doing wonders; in its better days it is a saving scheme that is based on trust and has existed for centuries when other institutional pillars of our society have died. If you need to help people back home, if you want to buy a house or simply save, all you need is to involve in ayuuto and the problem is fixed. On the other hand, ayuuto savings usually deprive kids off material things not to mention the friction between spouses. While their peers can buy Nintendo, Nike shoes etc and can go on holiday, the Somali kids whose parents invest in Ayuuto is a poor kid who is bullied for his visible poverty. There is also a time bomb here because there are predators out there who will quench their desires, your correspondent’s tentative conclusion; kids are susceptible to become victims of pedophiles and other ills because their wants of modernity is not met by their parents. Truly, the Ayuuto which was a savings scheme for women parse is not a bad thing; in the good old days women did not work and depended on their husbands who gave them masaruuf to buy food for the family: the ideal woman goes to the market and buys food to feed the family. Because of prudent buying she saves some few cents which become her ayuuto contribution; for hygiene products, something to decorate the house etc and buy clothing for herself and kids. This simple scheme which had a gender dimension is currently (in the west) the main form of saving/borrowing. It defies widely held and obsolete gender logic since men are involved in large numbers and hitherto a far cry from the old spirit of women-self help!
c)Passive society that appears to have come to the diaspora to live on the sweat of others; parasites who condemn the gaalo hands that feeds them in the public discourse but who love to enrich themselves. This discourse is given potency by the wadaads who will lecture on the vice, ills , historical wars and the perils of living in gaal country etc but avoid condemning these parasites. This social decay is discernible if you see the number of divorces of conveniences, the marriage of conveniences involving incestuous relationships just for the sake of bringing a loved one overseas.
The representation of private interests ... abolishes all natural and spiritual distinctions by enthroning in their stead the immoral, irrational and soulless abstraction of a particular material object and a particular consciousness which is slavishly subordinated to this object.
Marx, On the Thefts of Wood, in Rheinische Zeitung (1842)
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