Kenyan soldiers fighting Al-Shabaab terrorists in Somalia have become part of a charcoal and sugar smuggling cartel that earns them about $50 million (Sh5.1 billion) a year, a rights group said in a report released Thursday.
Journalists for Justice reckons that widespread sugar and charcoal smuggling, coupled with gross human rights abuses by the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) are helping keep Al-Shabaab alive nearly four years since Kenya entered the neighbouring country to help rout the terrorists.
The KDF are in Somalia as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) force that was sent to stabilise the tumultuous Horn of Africa nation.
Journalists for Justice, which is hosted by the Kenyan chapter of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ Kenya), said its report is the product of months of research conducted in Somalia and Kenya, including interviews with serving Kenyan military officers, United Nations officials, Western intelligence agencies, sugar traders, porters and drivers.
“To cross the border, the truck owners pay the KDF network Sh60,000 per truck (of sugar) and a further Sh60,000 to the police in Dadaab,” says the 25-page report dubbed ‘‘Black and White: Kenya’s Criminal Racket.’’
“The port tax on exported charcoal is around $3 (Sh306) a bag, split three ways between Jubaland, KDF and Al-Shabaab,” reads the report.
KDF spokesman David Obonyo denied the allegations, insisting that Kenyan soldiers were fighting hard as part of the 22,000-strong Amisom force.
“We are not involved in sugar or charcoal business,” said Colonel Obonyo. “How can you sit down with Al-Shabaab one minute, and the next you are killing each other?”
The UN Security Council banned charcoal exports from Somalia in 2012 to cut the stream of financing for the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab. The UN and other experts have, however, said the trade has continued through the southern Somalia port of Kismayu, where Kenyan forces have a base.
The report says an estimated 230 trucks of sugar leave Kismayu every week bound for Kenya, yielding around $230,000 (Sh23.4 million) a week, or $12.2 million (Sh1.2 billion) a year and alleges that the smuggling routes are controlled by senior Kenyan military officers.
The authors of the report further claim that Kenyan soldiers were raking annual earnings of $24 million (Sh2.4 billion) from charcoal trade whose export volumes were given at one million bags a month.
Successive reports by the UN Monitoring Group — which investigates terrorist financing and infringements of an arms embargo — have detailed the joint role of KDF, the Al-Shabaab and the local Jubaland administration in the illegal export of charcoal. The most recent report, published last month, also alleged KDF involvement in the illegal sugar trade.
The group accuses an unnamed “high ranking military official” of running a sugar smuggling network that enjoys “the protection and tacit co-operation” of Kenya’s political leaders. “The corruption and human rights abuses undermine Kenya’s goals in Somalia, provide funds to Al-Shabaab, and ultimately result in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Kenyans,” says the report, which also documents three cases of rape.
“One woman said she was raped by three KDF soldiers in uniform within Kismayu town in February 2013. Two others said they were attacked while returning to Kismayu from Dadaab camp,” says the report. In October 2011, Kenya formally sent 4,660 soldiers to Somalia after incessant attacks and kidnapping by Al-Shabaab terrorists within its territory.
A year later, the UN Security Council gave Kenya the green light to join the African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom), a decision that meant the Treasury would not bear the full cost of the incursion.
In the years since Nairobi invaded Somalia, Al-Shabaab attacks in Kenya have grown in number and scale.
At least 67 people were killed at Nairobi’s Westgate Shopping Mall in 2013 and 148 were massacred at Garissa University College in April -- with the terrorists saying the attacks were retaliation for the Kenyan military’s presence in Somalia and “war crimes” committed by Kenyan troops.