LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Aid agencies paid Somali militant group Al-Shabaab for permission to deliver aid in areas controlled by the Islamist group during a famine, a report by two think-tanks said on Monday.
Harakat Al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (Al-Shabaab) imposed registration and security fees ranging from $500 to $10,000 on humanitarian agencies delivering aid in the areas it controlled.
NGOs that paid the fee were also placed under surveillance. Al-Shabaab would force them to hire individuals chosen by the militants who would then monitor their aid work.
“We are the government of this area and responsible for your security; unfortunately, we do not have enough to pay our soldiers, so you should pay us for providing protection,” an aid worker was told by Al-Shabaab, said the report by the Overseas Development Institute and the Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute for Policy Studies.
“Al-Shabaab prohibited agencies from employing Somali women in any capacity or even from making contact with them, with the exception of healthcare provision actions,” according to the study.
In case of disobedience, agencies would be banned by the militants, often facing espionage accusations.
CARE and the International Medical Corps were expelled from the Denmark-size region under Al-Shabaab’s control in 2008, accused of providing the US with the information that had killed the group’s first leader, Aden Hashi Ayro.
UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) was also expelled, in December 2009, following accusations of bribery and of signposting vital and sensitive areas controlled by the Mujahideen, the report said.
In the same year, Al-Shabaab enforced tighter regulations for the agencies working in the areas of Bay and Bakool, pushing 11 conditions and higher payments that could reach $20,000 to be paid twice a year.
Subsequently, the World Food Programme withdrew before Al-Shabaab banned it. The Islamist group proscribed 16 international organisations, including several UN agencies, for “illicit activities and misconduct”, the report noted.
Other organisations decided to put up with the conditions in order to assist about 750,000 Somalis affected by the famine in 2011, many living in the militant-controlled region. The organisations had to put more money on the table, with the ‘government in waiting’ (as the group saw itself) taxing them on local aid workers’ salaries, transportation costs, property rentals and other revenue-raising activities.
The association with the aid agencies benefited Al-Shabaab, not only financially, but it also enhanced its image by showing the positives it had to offer to supporters and citizens.
The report said that the Islamist group barred aid agencies from engaging in any activities supporting local or traditional leaders outside Al-Shabaab.
The militants currently control south-central Somalia and represent a great obstacle “to reaching people in need of assistance”.
“Somalia remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers,” the report said.