Kenyan soldiers fighting Al-Shabaab terrorists in Somalia have become part of a charcoal and sugar smuggling cartel that earns them about $50 million a year, multiple sources have revealed.
Part of the racket is also Kenyan civilians who have contacts within the military ranks, who are now exploiting the loopholes to smuggle in foodstuff, petroleum goods, electronics and textile for some months.
Impeccable sources from security personnel including officers from Customs, police, administration and Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) told our writers that the rogue traders in cahoots with their counterparts in Somalia have engaged in the. They said, the traders are now focusing on smuggling foodstuff to ride on Kenya’s runaway rising food prices.
In the arrangements, ships which transport the illegal sugar in to the Middle East are loaded with contraband goods on the return journey, which are then given a safe passage in to the Somalia and the Kenyan market in exchange for bribes.
In December last year, police in Isiolo Kenya impounded a truck full of foodstuff from Somalia that came in the country through Diff and Habaswein in Wajir. Isiolo County Commander Charles Ontita said five officers intercepted the lorry in Isiolo town after receiving information from their contacts in Merti..
“We are not involved in sugar or charcoal business,” said Colonel David 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.
A report by Nairobi based Journalists for Justice says an estimated 230 trucks of sugar leave Kismayu every week bound for Kenya, yielding around $230,000 a week, or $12.2 million 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 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.
The Kenyan soldiers are also accused of offering safe passage to al shabaab fighters to smuggle charcoal at a fee, a move that has allowed the militant group to fund its operations.
In the scheme, that Kenyan troops assigned to Amisom were receiving $2 per bag of charcoal illegally shipped from the port of Kismayo.
Kenya Defence Forces units assigned to the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) are failing to enforce a ban on charcoal exports by al-Shabaab, a team of United Nations monitors charges in a new report.
Shabaab earns at least $10 million a year by shipping charcoal from ports in southern Somalia where KDF units are stationed, the UN panel says.
Although the Kenyan AMISOM contingent and Madobe’s Ras Kamboni militia took over Kismayu after al Shabaab left, the U.N. monitors said al Shabaab retained a share of the charcoal business after it lost control of the city.
“The nature of the business enterprise forged by al Shabaab continues with al Shabaab, its commercial partners and networks still central to the trade,” the Monitoring Group said.
The largest purchaser of charcoal in Dubai is Al Qaed International General Trading, owned by Baba Mansoor Ghayedi, alias Haji Baba, an Iranian living in Dubai who described himself to the Monitoring Group as the “King of Charcoal.”
The report said Haji Baba denied importing Somali charcoal in violation of the Security Council ban and that the paperwork shows his charcoal comes from Kenya and Djibouti, both of which have banned charcoal exports.
The Monitoring Group included in one annex what it said were examples of false bills of lading certifying Somali charcoal as coming from Kenya.
The United Arab Emirates has been aware of the illegal Somali charcoal shipments, the monitors said. In September 2012 it notified the Monitoring Group that it had impounded a shipment of 100,000 sacks of Somali charcoal.
The monitors said charcoal traders in Dubai informed them that the impounded shipment eventually reached the market. Some 10,000 bags of charcoal were unloaded in Dubai and the rest in Saudi Arabia. The consignee of that shipment was Haji Baba
BY DANIEL OTIENO