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JUNE 2021

Somalia: Ash-Shabab in business with…Kenya’s military

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The recent successful terror acts in Somalia carried out by Ash-Shabab islamists attracted attention to the problem yet again. It is evident that Ash-Shabab has grown more active not only because of the inter-clan war within Somalia’s government but also an increase in external financing.

Somalia: Ash-Shabab in business with...Kenya's military

Kenya’s military became involved in the conflict in 2011 when it launched an offensive in order to create a “security zone” next to its border. It succeeded in freeing Kismayo from Ash-Shabab, but that’s when its operations ended. Once Kenya’s forces captured the port of Kismayo and organized the Jubalend enclave, the traditional trade and logistical networks returned to the port. Islamists, who were practically ejected from the region, took advantage of the situation and became part of the re-established trade networks, to the point of becoming Kenyan army’s business partners. The latter, using their control over Kismayo, are enriching themselves off sugar and charcoal trade. It is also how Ash-Shabab is replenishing its coffers.

Senior Kenyan officers from the AMISOM African Union peacekeeping force as well as senior Kenyan security officials, with political cover at the level of Kenya’s cabinet of ministers, are actively participating in these operations whose value is estimated at between $200 million and $400 million a year. The profits are distributed among the Kenya’s military, members of Mogadishu transitional government, as well as Ash-Shabab which provides security for the cargoes to and from Kismayo. The fourth business partner is  the totally corrupted Kenyan border police turns a blind eye on the smuggling, in return for estimated $50 million cut. In return, the islamists stopped attacking Kenyan positions, while the Kenyan air force has likewise refrained from attacking Ash-Shabab targets and struck civilian targets instead on at least 11 occasions.  From Nairobi’s point of view, this business arrangement not only brings clear profits, but also buys Kenya’s security from Ash-Shabab attacks which is a key consideration given the high-profile terror attacks suffered by Kenya only a few years ago.

This is not the first time Kenya’s military was observed participating in illegal acts. Already last year UN monitoring group in Somalia accused Kenya’s military of violating the charcoal trade embargo on Somalia that was imposed by UNSC. About of the nearly $400 million of annual profit went into Ash-Shabab’s budget, which is even more than the profit it was able to realize during its earlier control over Kismayo.

US and EU attitude toward this practice is mildly negative. The US realizes that criticizing Kenya would worsen Somalia’s security picture and place the recently established US drone and special operations base in Kismayo , as well as the Manda Bay naval base, in danger. Indeed, Washington already made it clear that UN revelations will not negatively impact US-Kenya anti-terrorism cooperation, which means the US views Somalia’s islamist threat as the bigger problem than Nairobi corruption.

However, such policy is likely to have a short-term effect at best, before the two sides start quarrelling over distributing the spoils. Moreover, this policy is liable to strengthen Ash-Shabab and expand its influence not only in Somalia but also bordering countries. This organization has once before led to the country’s collapse and its radicalization. The business dealings in which it is engaging while Kenyans are profiting and Americans are turning a blind eye threatens yet another wave of destabilization in the foreseeable future.

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