Somalia: Al-Shabab and pro-Islamic State militants in Somalia are engaged in an economic war, and it is the country’s business sector that is getting cut down in the crossfire. Somali businessmen and analysts say the rival Islamist groups are targeting companies to an unprecedented degree with demands for so-called taxes.
Al-Shabab has already strong-armed business owners for years to finance its war against the Somali government and African peacekeepers who protect it. Now, al-Shabab is stepping up its demands, and pro-IS groups are apparently trying to fund its own activities by copying Shabab’s tactics of pay up-or-pay the consequences.
The groups are leaving a trail of bodies as a warning to those who don’t cooperate. Somali intelligence sources say IS militants killed telecommunications official Abdullahi Ali Omar in Bosaso on August 7 for not paying up, and that they’re also behind the more recent shootings of at least eight employees of Hormuud, the country’s largest telecommunications company.
Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the shooting of businessman Nur Khayre Gutale on October 29 in Mogadishu, although it said Gutale was targeted because he was involved in the selection of Somalia’s parliament in early 2017.
Abdirahman Mohamed Turyare, former director of Somalia’s National Intelligence Agency, says the extortion demands are strangling merchants who have managed to function, even thrive, in Somalia’s perpetual state of war and chaos.
“Businesses are paying three taxes today, al-Shabab taxes, Daesh [IS] taxes and the normal government taxes,” he said.
“The businessman who is paying these three taxes, who started his business with a small amount, is going to be forced to flee to neighboring countries because the business won’t pay for itself.”
But not paying hardly qualifies as an option, says Hussein Sheikh Ali, who directs the Hiraal Institute, a Mogadishu-based research firm focused on security in the Horn of Africa. “If they don’t pay, they will be targeted, as well as their children and wealth,” he said.”The punishment is death.
They have to choose between the two.” Al-Shabab is the dominant militant group in Somalia and the main threat to the business community. The Hiraal Institute outlined al-Shabab’s funding system in a report issued in July.
Over the past decade, the group’s finance department has “become the most ruthless collection entity in Somalia,” the Institute said.
The report and Somali businessmen say al-Shabab agents collect “taxes” on many types of commerce in Somalia, including the sales of farm produce and livestock, and also demand money for general support and for zakat, or alms for the poor.