Kenyan civil and military officials are highly involved in a sugar smuggling network, according to a study report by a Kenya based organization.

The trade is worth between $200 million and $400 million, according to the report by Journalists For Justice, a project of International Commission of Jurists.

The report estimated 150,000 tonnes of illicit sugar enters Kenya via Kismayo each year.

Al-Shabaab and the Jubaland administration of Ahmed Madobe are said to have shares in the trade.

According to the report, a high-ranking Kenyan military official is at the head of a smuggling network.

Kenyan commanders within AMISOM, officials of Ministries of Defence, Immigration and the palace are also implicated in the network.

Here is an excerpt from the report titled “Black And White: Kenya’s Criminal Racket in Somalia”:


Sources from within KDF(Kenyan Defence Forces), parliament and foreign embassies all described to JFJ(Journalists For Justice) a situa­tion in which a high ranking military official is at the head of a smuggling network which includes commanders of KDF forces within AMISOM(African Mission for Somalia), key figures in the Ministries of Defence, Immigration and State House and that this network enjoys the protection and tacit cooperation of leaders at the highest echelons of the Executive and the National Assembly.Photo - Kenyan Defence Forces

In its report of October 2015, the UN Monitoring Group described a recent decline in the charcoal trade at Kismayo and reported that, “As the centrality of revenue stream from charcoal declines, al-Shabaab’s taxation of the illicit sugar trade is gaining relevance.” It estimated that al-Shabaab’s earnings from sugar were “substantially higher” than the $400,000 to $800,000 estimated in 2011. Although the monitoring group said that, “The connection between al-Shabaab and sugar smuggling came to the fore in Kenya during the Group’s current mandate,” and implied KDF involvement by describing how sugar enters Kenya via Kismayo, the report did not cite KDF directly. The report said that the monitoring group, “is continuing to investigate Al-Shabaab’s revenue stream from the sugar trade,” but made no mention of KDF.

The monitoring group must tread carefully of course. As one unnamed UN official told JFJ in relation to information that might be embarrassing for Kenya: “the impact it can have on [the group’s] ability to live and work in Kenya is significant.”

JFJ research conducted over a similar period can reveal the true picture: KDF is heavily involved. JFJ research suggests that both KDF, the Jubaland administration of Ahmed Madobe and al-Shabaab are all benefitting from shares in a trade that is worth, collective­ly, between $200 million and $400 million.

Loaders, traders and intelligence officials told JFJ that an estimated 150,000 tonnes of illicit sugar comes into Kenya via Kismayo each year. Workers at the port in Kismayo told JFJ that around 230 trucks of 14 tonnes each leave Kismayo for Kenya, around 3000 tonnes a week. These numbers were corroborated by journalists, traders in Dadaab and Dhobley, and drivers at both locations, accounting for the hundreds of trucks crossing the border at Liboi and Amuma and arriving in the Dadaab camps each month. JFJ examined the trade at key points: Kismayo, Dhobley, Liboi, Amuma, Dadaab and Garissa.

KDF and Jubaland forces control the Kismayo port. KDF and Jubaland officials levy a tax of $2 per bag on imported sugar, an income of around $250,000 a week, or $13 mil­lion a year. Al-Shabaab taxes the trucks as they leave Kismayo at the rate of $1,050 each, (yielding an income similar to KDF, around $230,000 a week, or $12.2m a year). At Dhobley, the Jubaland administration collects a tax of Ksh60,000 per truck. To cross the border, the truck owners pay the KDF network Ksh60,000 per truck and then a further Ksh60,000 to the police in Dadaab.

This income is in addition to the export of charcoal, which, although apparently some­what disrupted and diminished, is still going on and is still a mainstay of revenue for al-Shabaab, Jubaland and KDF. Loaders and journalists in Kismayo told JFJ that the port tax on exported charcoal is around $3 a bag, split three ways between Jubaland, KDF and al-Shabaab, as reported previously by the UN Monitoring Group. Until recently, the export volumes were around 1 million bags a month equaling revenue of $24 million a year. Al-Shabaab also taxes charcoal production before the bags reach the port and it has a stake in the market value of the cargo when it reaches its destinations in the Middle East.

Sources in the diplomatic community and the UN told JFJ that Kenya’s allies in the fight against al-Shabaab, in particular the UN, US and UK are “very frustrated” with the fact that the KDF network is facilitating al-Shabaab’s profiteering from illegal charcoal and sugar smuggling in contravention of United Nations sanctions and Kenyan law. But, they said, there is little the UN, the Somali Federal Government or the international commu­nity can do, apart from work around the problem, sponsoring Somali government efforts to interdict smugglers, withholding intelligence from KDF and pursuing al-Shabaab targets on their own or with Somali Special Forces. Western diplomats have made private representations to the Kenyan government on the matter but they cannot force the issue, they said, because US and European forces need KDF’s cooperation for access to bases in Kismayo and the use of Kenyan facilities for other military training.

Further complicating the diplomatic picture is the fact that customs duties levied at the Kismayo port are the mainstay of revenue for the Jubaland administration of the former Islamist, Ahmed Madobe, now a key ally in the coalition against al-Shabaab. Thus, the il­licit conflict economy is benefitting both al-Shabaab and those ostensibly opposing them.


Daniel Berhane

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