News BlogEast Africa

Troublemakers in Somalia (continued): Al-Shabab's treasure (updated)

(BRUSSELS2) An organization as much commercial as political, the Al-Shabab? This is a bit of the feeling one might have when reading the report of the United Nations group of experts on Somalia (which I have already mentioned). The economic health of Al-Shabaab is “ stronger than ever », they estimate. The Islamist movement continues to consolidate its control over multiple sources of income: export taxes and extortion, trade and smuggling, support from the diaspora, foreign assistance. But " At the same time, Al-Shabaab has evolved from an armed faction to a consortium of business interests in and around Somalia (which) uses cartel-style business practices. There are also some indications that Al-Shabaab trading networks may also be used to camouflage charitable contributions from Gulf state sympathizers. »

A budget of nearly $100 million per year

All combined provides Al-Shabaab between $70 and $100 million per year. Enough to support military operations and arms purchases. Especially since the Al-Shabaab tax system "is more sophisticated and broad than any authority in Somalia, including those in Puntland and Somaliland ". It covers all areas from telecommunications to money transfer agencies, including stores, agriculture and livestock. Even quat traffic – to which he turns a blind eye – does not escape him. Thus, the income generated by this traffic at the K500.000 airport in West Mogadishu, then held by the Islamists, is estimated at $50.

Islamists more competitive than the TFG

The capture of the port of Kismayo in October 2009 was a key point in the financial base of Shabaab. It provides them with half of their income, between $35 and $50 million, of which at least $15 million comes from coal (export) and sugar (import). This port not only serves areas controlled by Islamists, but all of Somalia. Quite simply because the taxes there are lower than those in Mogadishu for example. Everything is completed by mobile military checkpoints which provide additional perception along the roads. However, for an importer, it is simpler to go through Kismayo to Mogadishu than to serve this port directly. The report gives a clear example: a mid-range vehicle delivered to Mogadishu costs the importer $1300 in taxes. Passing through Kismayo, he will have to pay around $200 to which must be added another $200 for transportation.

…and very pragmatic

The Islamist port also benefits from its proximity to Kenya. " A very timely 'commercial peace', full of mutual benefits” thus reigns between Kenyan businessmen and traffickers and the Islamists to take advantage of the 682 km of porous border which separates Kenya from Somalia and makes it a smuggling paradise.

Help from the diaspora

More worrying is the involvement of the diaspora. There is evidence and legal proceedings initiated in several European countries (Sweden, United Kingdom, Norway) and the United States involving residents accused of being involved in material and financial support with Al-Shabaab.

A very present threat throughout East Africa

Al-Shabaab presents a “growing regional and international” threat. He staged the attacks in Kampala in two nightclubs in July 2010 which left 79 people dead. It maintains indigenous networks in Kenya engaged in mobilization, resources, radicalization and recruitment on its behalf. He would have planned – according to the Ethiopian government – ​​10 targets in Addis Ababa (information which could not be confirmed by UN experts). The current trend – writes the report – shows that “ not only does Al-Shabab have the will and capacity to carry out attacks but it is giving rise to a new generation of jihadist groups in East Africa which represents a new challenge for security in the region and for the international community, wider ". UN experts have learned of networks in Kenya linked to Al-Shabaab that not only recruit or raise funds for the organization but also conduct training and referrals in Kenya. An influence that is no longer limited solely to the Somali community. The report thus takes the example of the Gaman Hotel in Eastleigh (Nairobi) which became a hub for the organization in human trafficking, documents and sheltered wounded fighters. Moreover, " Al-Shabaab has thus established functional links with other jihadist groups in North, West and Southern Africa. ».

(maj) § on threats added on September 13.

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).