The Somali Prime minister today met the Kenyan Prime Minister in Nairobi and changed the Somali government’s position regarding the Kenyan incursion into Somalia for the third time, saying that the Somali government supports the activities of the Kenyan forces in southern Somalia.
The communiqué released by the two Prime Ministers included a statement that called for “international logistical and financial support” in having the port of Kismaayo in southern Somalia blockaded. In other words, they want another state or military alliance with better naval capability to help them put a blockade on Kismayo.
The idea is that this will financially weaken the Shabab and lead to their defeat. It would have been a great idea to do the blockade if the Shabab are financially hurt by losing a strategic port such as Kismayo.
The Shabab have a system in which they make most companies based in central and southern Somalia to pay them the annual Zakah plus “donations” for special military campaigns, even if those companies are not in Shabab-held territories. For example, the Shabab have withdrawn from Mogadishu on the 6th of August of this year but they still get their annual Zakah from the big companies based in Mogadishu. Others, such as Dahabshiil, are not even based in south Somalia but pay the Shabab so that they may have access to the regions and towns controlled by the group.
The one thing that may make the Shabab less able to levy taxes is if they not only lost all territory, but if they also lost their most effective money raising machine: Their Security Wing.
I remember a Fatwa by Ibn Taymiya that was cited by a Shabab source in 2008 that made it legal to take from the business class any amount that is deemed necessary for “the protection of the religion”, even if it is by force. I don’t know whether that fatwa is genuine, but the Shabab amn have effectively collected “donations” and Zakah from businesses in Mogadishu when the group barely controlled an inch of territory in early 2008.
Blockading Kismayo will hurt the group in the short term, but they will easily track down those businesses that use other ports and send them invoices demanding payment for bringing in goods into the country. They would also go to store owners and ask them to donate a given amount to “the defence of the religion”. Very few people refuse, perhaps fearing for their lives even if they don’t sympathise with the group.
This is not the first time the TFG has called for having Kismayo blockaded. They first made the call in 2009. The major reason for the call does not appear to be to fight the Shabab, but to get more money for the coffers of the TFG, which in turn would be used to buy homes in Nairobi by corrupt officials.
If Kismayo port was closed today, few people would shift to Mogadishu port and would use any of the other Shabab-held ports in Barawe and Merka, or the natural harbours of Adale and other towns. Or even further north, the Puntland port of Bossasso. The reason is that the TFG port in Mogadishu levies very high tariffs on both imports and exports, making it unattractive for the businesses that use the Kismayo port.
A Mogadishu trader told me that it was cheaper to import through the port of Bossasso (which is about 1500 KM from Mogadishu on rough terrain and with checkpoints on the road which are used to extort money from the vehicles that use the road), drive through the many checkpoints to Mogadishu, giving them their extortion money, than use the port of Mogadishu. He said the only reason he was using the port of Mogadishu was because it was faster (time is money, remember?).
The United Nations Monitoring Group gives a better strategy to deal with the port of Kismayo than the plan by the TFG and Kenya. They called for banning of non-local merchants from trading with the Shabab-held ports; the TFG lowering its high tariffs in the port of Mogadishu; and the GCC to consider banning charcoal imports from Somalia.
Yes I know, it is very unlikely that the GCC would ban charcoal imports despite having the largest oil reserves in the world. The UN should rather ban the charcoal exports from Somalia. The Shabab would just tax the charcoal makers and the exporting companies even if the charcoal was not exported from their own ports.
If this blockade goes ahead and all imports and exports are banned from the Kismayo port, I envision a rise in piracy in the region. There will be two causes for the piracy, one being many battleships in the area being occupied with enforcing a blockade instead of protecting merchant ships; the other reason will be the Shabab, angry that their policy of not actively taking part in the piracy did not pay off in terms of “being left alone”- as they like to say, would find no reason not to take part in the lucrative crime.
I hope the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea’s recommendations are taken regarding the Shabab-held ports, and not the TFG’s, which would not really make much of a difference anyway.