A report titled “Black and White” (“black” for charcoal and “white” for sugar) by the NGO, Journalists for Justice, that was released last week reaffirms allegations that have been made before, including by the United Nations Monitoring Group, that the Kenya Defence Forces are trading with Al Shabaab, the very enemy they are supposed to be fighting.
The report notes that since Kenya invaded Somalia in October 2011, there has been little public accounting for its activities, whether to the National Assembly or the public generally.
The report notes that there has been little independent reporting on the invasion, with coverage mostly from journalists taken on “guided” tours by the KDF or with public relations videos paid for by the KDF, and now, most recently, a book.
According to the report, censorship has played a role as editors described being summoned to meetings with top military brass and told that critical stories would be considered as undermining national security.
And the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, mandated to report on violations of international law and sanctions on Somalia — including the financing of Al-Shabaab and the targeting of civilians — has so far avoided looking too closely at the activities of the Kenyan military inside Somalia.
According to JFJ, the monitoring group must tread carefully in relation to information that might be embarrassing for Kenya: “the impact it can have on [the group’s] ability to live and work in Kenya is significant.”
The JFJ report was motivated by the fact that the death toll from Al-Shabaab attacks inside Kenya have risen to more than 400, leading to questions on whether Operation Linda Nchi is actually delivering on its promise.
OPERATION LINDA NCHI
The report covers the conduct of KDF forces in two areas: first, sugar smuggling and financial enabling of Al-Shabaab and, secondly, human rights violations.
The report discloses the methodology used to compile the information, disclosing that it is the product of several months of research in Kismayo and Dhobley, and inside Kenya in Liboi, Dadaab, Garissa and Nairobi.
The content of the report is also based on a desktop review of UN monitoring reports, academic studies, African Mission in Somalia (Amisom) communication and media reports, and one-on-one interviews with more than 50 people who it said have “intimate knowledge” of KDF activities.
These include “serving senior KDF officers, UN officials, western intelligence officials, members of parliament, victims of KDF human rights violations inside Somalia, journalists, doctors, porters at the charcoal stockpiles, drivers on the sugar routes and middlemen in the Dadaab camp.”
The report notes that following the Garissa University massacre in April, the Kenya government, once again, talked tough about tackling Al-Shabaab, launching air strikes inside Somalia, threatening to close Dadaab refugee camp and freezing the assets of 86 people and organisations allegedly connected to Al-Shabaab, among them traders involved in sugar smuggling.
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
The findings of the report, however, contradict the impression of seriousness on the part of the Kenya government because, it says, human rights abuses inside Somalia appear widespread and are carried out with impunity, including air strikes that target livestock and wells rather than militant training camps.
The report asserts that the KDF, rather than taking the fight to Al-Shabaab, is actually in “garrison mode”, sitting in bases while senior commanders are engaged in corrupt business practices with the Jubaland administration and Al-Shabaab.
The report cites a diplomat saying that illicit trade in sugar and charcoal is “shocking” and “inimical to national security”.
The report cites sources inside KDF, the Kenyan Parliament and foreign embassies all of which described a situation in which a high ranking military official is at the head of a smuggling network which includes commanders of KDF within Amisom and “key figures in the Ministries of Defence, Immigration and State House, and that this network enjoys the protection and tacit co-operation of leaders at the highest echelons of the Executive and the National Assembly.”
The report cites the October 2015 report of the UN Monitoring Group which described a recent decline in charcoal trade at Kismayo and reported that, “As the centrality of revenue stream from charcoal declines, Al-Shabaab’s taxation of the illicit sugar trade is gaining relevance.”
MULT-MILLION DOLLAR TRADE
That UN report estimated that Al-Shabaab’s earnings from sugar were “substantially higher” than the $400,000 to $800,000 estimated in 2011.
Although the monitoring group said that “the connection between Al-Shabaab and sugar smuggling came to the fore in Kenya during the group’s current mandate,” and implied KDF involvement by describing how sugar entered Kenya through Kismayo, the report failed to cite KDF directly, instead saying the monitoring group was “continuing to investigate Al-Shabaab’s revenue stream from sugar trade.”
The JFJ report asserts that KDF “is heavily involved and that” the Jubaland administration of Ahmed Madobe and Al-Shabaab are all benefitting from shares in a trade that is worth, collectively, between $200 million and $400 million.”
Citing sources, including loaders, traders and intelligence officials, the report estimates that 150,000 tonnes of illicit sugar comes into Kenya through Kismayo each year.
Around 230 trucks of 14 tonnes each leave Kismayo for Kenya each week.
These numbers were, according to the report, corroborated by journalists, traders in Dadaab and Dhobley, and drivers at both locations, accounting for the hundreds of trucks crossing the border at Liboi and Amuma and arriving in the Dadaab camps each month.
The key trade points are Kismayo, Dhobley, Liboi, Amuma, Dadaab and Garissa.
KDF AND AL-SHABAAB LEVIES
The report avers that KDF and Jubaland forces control the Kismayo port and levy a tax of $2 per bag on imported sugar, an income of around $250,000 a week, or $13 million a year.
Because the trucks have to pass Al Shabaab-controlled territory to reach Kenya, Al-Shabaab taxes the trucks as they leave Kismayo at the rate of $1,050 each, (yielding an income similar to KDF, around $230,000 a week, or $12.2m a year).
At Dhobley, the Jubaland administration collects a tax of Ksh60,000 per truck. To cross the border, the truck owners pay the KDF network Ksh60,000 per truck and then a further Ksh60,000 to the police in Dadaab.
The report says that income from sugar is in addition to the export of charcoal, which is still going on and remains a mainstay of revenue for Al-Shabaab, Jubaland and KDF.
Loaders and journalists in Kismayo told JFJ that the port tax on exported charcoal is around $3 a bag, split three ways between Jubaland, KDF and Al-Shabaab, as reported previously by the UN Monitoring Group.
Until recently, the export volumes were around 1 million bags a month, equalling revenue of $24 million a year.