After the al-Shabaab attack on Garissa University College in April this year, the Kenya Government published a list of 86 people and organisations
it alleged were financing al-Shabaab, 30 of whom it claimed were “sugar barons”.
Shortly after, JFJ researchers travelled on a sugar truck from Dhobley to Dadaab refugee camp and the convoy of 13 trucks was not stopped once. When asked, the driver said that his bosses had “cleared the road.” He meant that they had paid their contribution to the agent who had informed the police and the military who duly made sure that roadblocks and patrols did not bother the convoy.
A western intelligence source told JFJ that up to two thirds of smuggled sugar enters Kenya from Somalia through Kismayo port, which is controlled by the Kenyan military.
The mechanics of the sugar trade are well known in Kenya. For years, domestic sugar suppliers have been unable to meet demand or have been deliberately run down to increase the margins for smuggled sugar. The shortfall of up to 200,000 tonnes per year between domestic production and demand is made up from smuggled imports. The tariff on non-Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) imports is 100 per cent, making the margins for smuggling very attractive indeed.
Sugar is offloaded in Kismayo along with other goods being smuggled into Kenya including vehicles, pasta, cooking oil, shoes, rice and some petroleum products. According to the workers at the port, on incoming sugar, the KDF levies a Sh200 ($2) charge per sack. Workers at the port say around 230 trucks of 14 tonnes each leave Kismayo bound for Kenya each week. These numbers were corroborated by seven sugar traders in Dadaab and Garissa and by five drivers in the sugar convoys interviewed in Dhobley, Liboi and the Dadaab refugee camps. That’s around 2,940 tonnes a week, around 150,000 tonnes a year (as noted by the European intelligence source), a significant percentage of the shortfall in Kenyan sugar. And some analysts fear, “sugar is a convenient cover for other things.”
At a rate of Sh200 ($2) per 25kg sack, the KDF network makes around Sh25.76 million ($257,600) a week from sugar imports or Sh1.3 billion ($13 million) a year. But that is only at the port. The sugar is also taxed at various points on its way to Kenya.
Once a truck leaves Kismayo, it is taxed by al-Shabaab five kilometres outside the city and given a stamped receipt which is good for transit through al-Shabaab territory. Seven different businessmen involved in the trade interviewed for the report confirmed that the amount paid to al-Shabaab is Sh102,500 ($1,025) per truck. At Dhobley, the Jubaland authorities collect a further Sh60,000 ($700).
A UN official told JFJ that there was “clear coordination between the military leaders in Dhobley and Kismayo.” This matched what senior KDF figures and an MP from the former North Eastern Province told JFJ. An official from Jubaland who works in the tax collecting business complained that al-Shabaab and KDF were making more money than them from the sugar but that there was nothing they could do about it.
Several of the seven sugar businessmen interviewed complained to JFJ that the taxes had become higher in recent months, and especially in the weeks following the Garissa attack. Two of them complained of KDF demanding more money at checkpoints and making unscheduled detentions of trucks carrying smuggled goods to demand extra payment for their release. The businessmen themselves had no contact with the security services, instead paying their share through agents. In Ifo camp, they said this was a man called Abdullahi Mrefu and in Dajabulla a man named Gessay. Mrefu is on the list of 86, Gessay is not.
At Dajabulla, Liboi or any one of the other border crossings, (there are many cut lines), truck owners pay another Sh60,000. Upon arrival in the Dadaab refugee camps, the trucks pay a final instalment of Sh60,000. Two truck drivers on the Amuma and Liboi border crossings told JFJ that the payments were all cleared through agents who paid off the police, customs, politicians, and others.
Traders in the market in Dadaab camp said around 40 trucks come to Ifo market alone each week. Ifo is the biggest, but there are two other markets in Dadaab, in Dagahaley and Hagadera, which traders said see around 100 trucks a month each. That is a total of 360 trucks to Dadaab. Others go straight to Garissa or enter Kenya through Wajir, Mandera and Lamu. From Dadaab, trucks make their way to Garissa where, truckers and a policeman said, sugar is stockpiled in two main stores: Hulugho and Badr and then transported onwards to Nairobi and the rest of Kenya.
If all of the 230 trucks leaving Kismayo each week are destined for Kenya and they all pay two fees to KDF/Kenya Police, one to al-Shabaab and one to Jubaland, the total accruing to Kenyan security forces is around Sh3.5 million ($350,000) each week. That’s close to Sh150 million ($1.5 million) a month or Sh1.7 billion ($17 million) a year, not including the port tax at Kismayo. And that’s just the tax. This does not include the profit on the smuggled sugar: a hefty margin for the businessmen concerned, none of whom are on the list of 86 blacklisted for cooperating with al-Shabaab.
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According to an MP from North Eastern, “A [high-ranking Member of Parliament], his brother and [another former high-ranking MP] are all involved in smuggling, but there is no paper trail. We all know each other, we can even tell you whose relatives are driving the trucks.” These people order up the cargoes, provide the financing and arrange the political cover for the shipments.
In 2010, information was provided to the UN monitoring group about the agent Gessay, and his links to all of the above plus Noor Barre, Heider Haji Abdi and a businessman called Mohammed Hussein. Hussein plus another businessman called Sheikh Kassim as well as a former Cabinet minister and his son were all mentioned again to JFJ by a UN official in 2015. A US diplomat and a European one each confirmed to JFJ the relevance and continued involvement of these senior figures, based on their intelligence.
The same people are still involved. If they are not being prosecuted it is because senior figures within the administration do not wish them to be. Of the list of 86 traders named after Garissa, all the Dadaab sugar brokers were still operating in the weeks following publication and business is continuing as usual at the time of going to press. There is another layer of involvement, higher up, who protect them.
“This goes pretty high, very close to Uhuru [Kenyatta], I am told,” the UN official said, speaking of the manipulation of the sugar market and the illegal importation from Kismayo, “and [a senior KDF officer] is in it up to his neck.” The serving KDF officers interviewed by JFJ confirmed this assessment. “You need to understand that the military is in charge. The politicians cannot tell military chiefs what to do,” the Brigadier told JFJ. The General confirmed the role of top KDF commanders in the racket too. “[The commanders] have amassed a lot of wealth,” from sugar, cars and other procurement deals. He went on to say, “If you want to survive at a high level in the KDF, you have to be corrupt …”
When JFJ outlined to a US diplomat with sight of US intelligence cables the picture of a smuggling network with interests in sugar and other illicit trade in Somalia involving former Cabinet ministers and senior KDF officers and with senior politicians providing political protection, he said: “What you have described is broadly accurate.”
A European diplomat who had seen intelligence reports said, with reference to the Somalia aspect of the smuggling ring: “I can’t tell you the details but [the KDF] … control everything, together with Yusuf Haji. Madobe doesn’t exist: it’s Haji that controls the clan.” He meant that Madobe and his administration in Kismayo were simply representatives of the Ogaden clan, of which Yusuf Haji is the most influential member.