Somalia’s largest telecom has been “forced” into an unholy alliance with Al-Shabaab, and this is paradoxically enabling the firm to grow.
A new report lays blame on a symbiotic relationship between Hormuud Telecom and Al-Shabaab for the resurgence of raids in Kenya and Somalia.
The think-tank International Policy Group says in its report that the telco has been threatened and forced into working with the terrorist group, but from which it receives protection in return.
The think-tank is not related to the consultancy firm IPG.
“Al-Shabaab has used extreme force to get Hormuud to kowtow to its guidelines, pay taxes and allow its agents access to the company’s technology for counter-intelligence operations,” the report titled Reaping the Whirlwind says.
The company has been a victim of terror attacks in the past.
According to the report, some of those attacks were because of rivalry between Al-Shabaab factions. It says telco may have learnt survival skills in Al-Shabaab strongholds, and now takes part in facilitating raids which ultimately scares off rivals.
“In certain regions, Hormuud has enjoyed monopoly of mobile communication services … but this love affair with Al-Shabaab has its downside. It has dented Hormuud’s reputation,” it says.
“It is using Al-Shabaab as part of its strategy to gain monopoly in Somalia and shut out Kenyan telecommunication firms 50 kilometres into north eastern Kenya.”
Hormuud spokesman Abdulahi Mohamud dismissed the report, saying the company has been the link channel for Somalia’s resilience in the face of insecurity.
“To suggest that a business with an international reputation … would be engaging with terrorist groups is outrageous,” he told the Nation on Thursday.
“We pride ourselves in providing Somali people with the much-needed telecommunications infrastructure to fuel … growth, conducting our operations to the highest standard.”
Mohamud said Hormuud would continue to seek dialogue with stakeholders but added that the company would not answer questions on “baseless” claims by the Policy Group.
The report comes in the wake of frequent attacks on Kenya’s towns in Mandera, Wajir and Garissa counties where police stations, communication masts and kidnappings have happened.
On Tuesday, Al-Shabaab fighters raided a camp in Wajir and killed two people arrested in connection with the October 12 attack in which 11 police officers were killed.
“These kinds of attacks are supported by Hormuud technology which ensures merchants are paid through mobile money, or communication is disrupted so Somali security agents can’t track the movement of attackers,” the report says.
Hormuud operates mainly in central and southern Somalia.
According to the UN Panel of Experts on Somalia, it controls about 45 per cent of the market with four million subscribers. It has about 6,000 employees, sustains 15,000 indirect jobs and has 12,000 shareholders.
Hormuud is not the only Somali entity criticised for kowtowing to Al-Shabaab. Other companies forced into extortion include Som Tel, Golis Telecom Puntland, Telecom Somaliland, Dahabshiil, Salaam Somali Bank, Taaj Express, Iftin Express, al-Buruj Construction Company, Becco Power and logistical firms at Mogadishu port.
“The company is caught between a rock a hard place with its investors and managers torn between adherence to business norms and ethos and goals of political Islam,” the report says.
Hormuud’s founder Ali Ahmed Nur Jim’ale was once listed by the UN and the United States as a sponsor of terrorism. Jim’ale, a former member of the Islamic Courts Union, which preceded al-Shabaab, was later dropped from the sanctions list in 2012 following lobbying by the Federal Government of Somalia.
Hormuud had also been was sanctioned in 2012 by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control. The sanctions were lifted in 2014.
In 2016, the then UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea (now known as the UN Panel of Experts on Somalia) said al-Shabaab operatives were being paid mainly through Hormuud’s EVC-PLUS money transfer service and that the firm was not cooperating with authorities in sharing records of the transactions.
“There are performance-based rewards. Every surviving participant of the El-Adde campaign received a $200-$400 bonus,” the report adds.
“Al-Shabaab has been known to have paid bonuses of $400 for new recruits as well as occasional compensation to families of suicide bombers.”