US Banks Refuse to Serve Africans

465250516_cd2ead93cd_oAh the joys of the free market: the open exchange, illness the diversity of services as banks compete with one other attract new clients. ‘We can provide any financial service to anyone,’ they boast. ‘Couples, corporations, clubs, give us your money and we will take care of you!’

But the capitalist calculations typical of banks seem to have missed a digit over at HSBC USA and Bank of America, which seems to have determined that certain clients are not worth the their banks’ time: Africans.

Bank of America has closed the bank accounts of the Angolan embassy in Washington, DC, just three months after HSBC USA closed the embassy’s accounts as well.

The move is the latest in a growing financial and diplomatic crises concerning the finances of African embassies in the US, over a dozen of which are said to be facing frozen or closed bank accounts, from the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo to Burkina Faso, Burundi, Sierra Leone and Swaziland.

What is so undesirable about the money of some of Africa’s most senior diplomats and diploamtic missions?

“We don’t know why,” an Angolan diplomat at the DC embassy told Change.org. “All we know is that bank accounts were closed, both governments are in discussion and we are awaiting their decision.”

“Can you live without a salary in this country?” said the diplomat, who asked that their name not be printed as they did not have authorization from the ambassador to speak. “If you don’t pay your credit card bills and you have a lot of debt, are you going to be able to survive? Without money for rent and utilities, how are you gonna live? The situation is really difficult.”

Angolan ambassador to the US Josefina Pitra Diakité has flown back to Angola to help resolve the crises, and the embassy has called on the US State Department to intervene.

“The Department of State seriously regrets the inconveniences — in some cases, very serious inconveniences — that African embassies and others have been subjected to as a result of actions by a number of American commercial banks,” Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said in an interview with allAfrica.com.

But that’s not enough for African diplomats unlikely to receive their salary.

“As part of the Vienna Convention, the host country needs to create the conditions needed for foreign embassies to operate,” said the diplomat. “We are a strategic partner of the US. We should be treated as such. If we put on the table all the topics we need to discuss and talk in the framework of mutual interest, I believe everything will be OK.”

According to US State Department officials interviewed by Foreign Policy Magazine, Bank of America is only one of several banks rethinking the amount of resources they have to put into the maintenance of African diplomatic accounts that must be monitored for money laundering.

“Some banks feel it’s just not worth their time anymore, it’s a cost of business they don’t want to deal with,” a State Department official told the magazine.

These banks are clearly under pressure to help rout out money laundering and corruption, but that does not justify blocking the ability of Africa’s most senior diplomats from going about their business.

Tell Bank of America and HSBC USA that it is not acceptable to discriminate against African embassies because of the work involved in abiding by domestic and international oversight regulations.

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