“Al-Shabaab is making money across the whole country,” the emir says. “They are collecting tolls on the streets they control and some routes take in more than $50,000 per day.” On top of this, according to the United Nations, they also control the million-dollar smuggling trade in charcoal and sugar in the south of the country together with the Kenyan army. They are also involved in smuggling ivory and rhinoceros horns.
But profit isn’t just being generated inside the country, he says. He maintains that al-Shabaab receives financial support from outside the country, mainly from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. He speaks of Qatari sheikhs having flown in $20 million to his region last year, though he has no proof. He says the money went into the bosses’ pockets, who used it to buy weapons, pay their fighters and fill their safes. He claims their families live in Europe and the U.S. and that their children attend the best universities.
He himself, he says, used to live in an eight-room villa on the seaside southwest of Mogadishu, drove two new all-terrain vehicles, had three slaves and 12 security guards.
Two United Nations helicopters climb into the sky over the airport. The emir follows them with his eyes.
He then says that humanitarian aid is a blessing. For al-Shabaab, at least. Especially this year, since more than 800,000 people have had to leave their villages because of famine. The terror group demanded 5 percent of the aid organizations’ budgets.
But that is a low estimate. According to a high-ranking employee of the United Nations in Nairobi who is responsible for Somalia, the United Nations sets aside as much as 10 percent of its budget – officially for “capacity building,” or something similar, but unofficially to pay al-Shabaab so that local U.N. partners can distribute aid supplies.
But because the United Nations cannot control the work of the local NGOs in the south, the employee says, nobody knows if the aid is actually reaching the people who need it. Another employee, who also wants to remain anonymous, estimates that it’s a good result if just 10 percent of the aid ends up in the right place. Even hunger, he says, is a business in Somalia.