War profiteering by a network in the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) in Somalia is interfering with Amisom efforts to destroy Al Shabaab and stabilise the country, a new report says.
Coalition forces under the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) and key Western countries funding the war effort are said to be “very frustrated” with a KDF black market racket that helps Al Shabaab profiteer from illegal charcoal and sugar smuggling, the report by Journalists for Justice alleges.
The group says KDF soldiers —who were re-hatted under Amisom — “are sitting in bases while senior commanders are engaged in corrupt business practices with the Jubaland administration and Al Shabaab.”
Allegations of KDF involvement in organised charcoal and sugar rackets at the port of Kismayu are not new. Since the Kenyan forces captured the port in 2012, several reports have accused senior KDF commanders of profiting from the illegal trade.
The Kenyan government has, however, repeatedly denied allegations that its troops in Kismayu are fuelling an illicit trade that helps in funding Al Shabaab.
Kenyan army spokesman Colonel David Obonyo denied the allegations, insisting Kenyan soldiers were fighting hard as part of the 22,000-strong Amisom.
“We are not involved in the sugar or charcoal business,” said Col. Obonyo. “How can you sit down with Al Shabaab one minute, and the next you are killing each other?” he was quoted by AFP as saying.
The UN, which banned the export of charcoal from Somalia, has previously accused the KDF of fuelling the multimillion dollar trade and being in cahoots with Al Shabaab, which rakes in millions of dollars in revenue annually.
In its most recent report released last month, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea said contingents within Amisom “continue to be actively engaged in and profiting from the trade.”
“The KDF has been eating with the enemy,” said Kwamchetsi Makokha, one of the authors of the report, adding that there is a “fairly formal relationship” between the players — who ironically fight on opposite fronts in the Somali war — in sharing the proceeds.
Estimates by the UN monitoring group say 12 million bags of charcoal with a street value of $350 million to $400 million are exported from Somalia every year.
Al Shabaab controls 30 per cent of this trade, while the KDF network in Somalia and its affiliates are said to control 70 per cent, according to the report.
The trade has developed into a complex racketeering network, roping in “Al-Shabaab, the Jubaland administration of Ahmed Madobe [formerly Ras Kamboni militia] and the network within the KDF.”
“About a million bags of charcoal leave the port of Kismayu every month and Al Shabaab earns around $1 million in export taxes,” Mr Makokha said.