A recent report indicated that the militant Al-Shabaab movement in Somalia is collecting money that matches that of the official authorities, using intimidation and violence.
The Heral Institute, which specializes in security affairs, said that the militants collect at least 15 million dollars a month, and more than half of the amount comes from the capital, Mogadishu.
Some companies pay the money to both the militants and the internationally recognized government alike. Al-Shabab has been fighting the government for more than a decade.
The movement controls a large part of southern and central Somalia, but it has also managed to extend its influence in areas controlled by the government based in Mogadishu.
The report describes the “brutal” way in which the group takes money from the rural population.
“Fear and the real threat to their lives is the only motivation that makes people pay al-Shabaab money,” the report said.
According to the Heral Institute, unlike the Somali government, Al-Shabaab “generates a large financial surplus” as the amount of money it collects increases annually, while its operating costs remain fairly constant.
The report, which is based on interviews with Somali al-Shabab members, businessmen, government officials, and others, says that all major companies in Somalia provide jihadists with money, either in the form of monthly payments or annual “zakat” at 2.5% of annual profits.
Businessmen in government-controlled areas are complaining that they have to pay money to both the militants and the government.
This includes businessmen in Mogadishu, where the government is stationed, and in the cities of Bosaso and Jawhar, and to a lesser extent in Kismayo and Baidoa, all of which are officially outside the control of militants.
The seaport in Mogadishu is a major source of Somali government revenue. However, the jihadists “tax” imports, and obtain cargo ship data from port officials.
The Heral Institute says that many government employees give part of their salaries to al-Shabaab in the hope that the organization will leave them alone despite being considered legitimate targets.
State employees and other workers in government-controlled areas explain how insurgents contact them via mobile phone to demand money.
A military commander pays money to the youth movement
In areas controlled by Al-Shabaab, jihadists charged with collecting money turn directly to companies and demand payments.
A military commander in the Somali army described how he “sent money to al-Shabab even though he was fighting the group.”
He explained how a man who was building a house for him stopped the construction work and left after the commander refused to pay fees to the militants.
Cars transporting building materials to the site were also banned after their owners were required to pay.
“I finally had to choose between giving up construction work or paying al-Shabaab money,” the military commander said.
He added, “Unfortunately, I paid them $ 3600 and my house was completed.”
The report says jihadists are closely watching the booming real estate sector as they do the imports sector.
A real estate agent in the southern coastal city of Kismayo explained how the gunmen contacted a colleague, “in light of the details of the transactions they conducted and ordered him to pay a non-negotiable amount – and they pay exactly what Al-Shabaab requested.”
Because of its function as a quasi-governmental entity, Al-Shabab is the only entity in the country that collects revenue in some rural areas. It imposes taxes on livestock, crops, and even the use of water resources.
The report showed how in areas controlled by the movement, only farmers who pay for irrigation can use rivers and canals to irrigate their fields.
He added, “A farmer complained that he was forced to pay operating taxes for his tractor even when he was out of service due to technical problems.”
Most of the businessmen, government employees and others who pay Al Shabaab have told HERAL researchers that they do so only out of fear.
They added that “paying taxes to Al-Shabaab is not a voluntary act.”
Those who refuse to pay the money are killed or forced to close their businesses and flee the country.
Some feel it is worth paying the al-Shabab money because they are receiving services in return. And unlike the government, militants can provide a degree of safety.
They say, “Taxes paid at Al-Shabaab checkpoints ensure safe passage through the entire movement area and into government-controlled areas where militants are active.”
The report details how jihadists resolve disputes between businessmen.
The Heral Institute says the only way to prevent militants from obtaining funds in this way is to improve the security situation, so that businessmen and others can operate without interference from al-Shabab.
Given that the movement has existed for more than a decade and continues to launch attacks in government-controlled areas, it appears that the militants are able to continue obtaining funds, regardless of where they are in Somalia, in the coming period.