One of the legendary digital divide stories is about a service in Ethiopia that allows one to buy goats over the Internet. You make a secure payment to a webserver in the US, which results in a phonecall to Addis, which leads to a goat being delivered to your family for holidays or special occasions. It’s a cool story, apocryphal or not, and hints at one of the huge financial problems facing expatriate Africans and their families: remittances.

Africans living abroad routinely send hundreds of millions of dollars home to help support their families. In the process, they pay millions of dollars in fees to companies like Western Union, who take substantial percentages off the top on each transfer. There’s all sorts of creative ways to reduce these fees, including the brilliant hawala system using in much of the Islamic world. (Note – the use of an Interpol link here does imply an opinion that hawala is, or should be illegal. It just turns out that this interpol article is the best intro to hawala I’ve found online…) is presenting a very sophisticated alternative to online goat purchase. Open an account, and you can choose from a wide range of practical and luxury goods to send to your family and friends in Ghana. The goods are already in Ghana, so you’re not paying (directly) for the shipping. Your recipient can pick up the goods at the warehouse in Accra, or arrange for their delivery anywhere in the country. The goods available range from mobile phones to mosquito nets, from PVC pipe to DVD players.

I’m planning on using the system to send Christmas gifts this year, and also hope to meet with the folks behind the company during my time here. Check them out at

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