Kenya is asking the international community to target informal sources of finances for groups like al-Shabaab, that have managed to remain active despite military losses, in the war on violent extremism.
Kenya’s High Commissioner to the UK Manoah Esipisu gave a lecture in London that despite the concerted crackdown on terror merchants, some like al-Shabaab are thriving on informal channels of fundraising.
“The military means must be maintained and escalated. This is necessary but insufficient. We will need to fully deal with cash-based financing in areas that terrorists operate,” Mr Esipisu told a workshop at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The institute focuses on international affairs such as counter-terrorism measures.
Mr Esipisu said anti-terror agencies had tended to focus ‘so exclusively’ on countering terrorism financing measures in the formal banking and money transfer systems.
The delegates discussed whether whether military might could subdue the terror group.
Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda, Djibouti and Ethiopia have contributed troops to African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), which is backed by the UN and has been a combat force since 2007.
The militant group has, however, been able to raise its frequency of attacks recently inside Somalia, targeting installations using suicide bombers.
In addition, the group has been able to recruit foreign fighters who are able to launch attacks in neighbouring countries like Kenya.
A recent report by the Voice of America’s Somali service indicated the group had infiltrated even government offices, gathering their own intelligence to counter government efforts.
The group, the report said, was also collecting ‘taxes’ from local businesspeople, often through extortion and paid in cash.
“Regional and international partners must come together with the federal and regional governments of Somalia to design and implement a framework for combatting Al-Shabaab’s financing using strong Joint Investigation Teams, effective prosecution and incarceration in Somalia,” Mr Esipisu said.
“These teams must also take aim at its illicit taxation and protection rackets of thousands of businesses and many of the humanitarian organisations in Somalia.”
Kenya had earlier this year fronted tougher proposals to the UN, which could have elevated al Shabaab to the same league as ISIS, Taliban and al-Qaeda and effectively lock out humanitarian support in areas the groups control.
The proposal was vetoed by the US after pressure from humanitarian lobbies. Critics charge relief organisations that remit illegal taxes to al-Shabaab or provide rations to the militants for a pass to work in areas they control.
“We will need the entire sector to be more transparent and supported in minimising taxation by terrorist groups. To not do this, and to invite the terrorist groups to make headline grabbing attacks, will eventually lead to the humanitarian sector being publicly accused of being a source of terrorism,” he said.
Amisom is supposed to exit Somalia gradually from next year leaving the focus on existing Somali security agencies to deal with the Shabaabs.
Mr Esipisu added that while military efforts have weakened the group, Somalia will also need working institutions to deter new members from joining the group.
“The military success of Al-Shabaab is far from assured: national and regional militaries, backed by Amisom and global partners such as the United States among others, have dealt it repeated defeats on the battlefield, and we can look forward to more.”
“Its political and ideological assault, however, reaches wider than its military capability. If it aligns with other political and ideological interests, particularly the expansionist or irredentist kinds, we will find ourselves dealing with a longer-term crisis that includes economic failure in Somalia and in areas exposed to the group’s operatives.”