Eastleigh traders feel the heat of KDF Somali inc..

Halkaan ka akhri

Eastleigh traders feel the heat of KDF Somali incursion

Haji Hassan Mustaf is a wholesaler selling imported clothes at Eastleigh’s Garissa Lodge. He gets his clothes from China and Dubai, often travelling there to buy the clothing items himself.

But it has not been business as usual for him in the last three months since the Kenya Defence Forces launched an operation to wipe out the Al-Shabaab militia group in Somalia.

Business has slowed down considerably for everyone in Eastleigh,” says a dejected Hassan.

“In my case, I have been affected most by the fact that people are now afraid of coming to Garissa Lodge for fear of an explosion or some terrorist attack,” he says.

Photo/FILE A street in Eastleigh. Business has plunged to an all-time low at once bustling Garissa Lodge and other markets as customers keep away for fear of reprisal terrorist attacks following the Kenyan operation to wipe out Al-Shabaab militia.

Hassan says that most of his clients were businessmen from the Coast, Eastern and north-eastern Kenya.

“I have lost almost all my customers from North Eastern,” he says.“They say that business is not good for them either. Very few from the Coast have been brave enough to come to Eastleigh. These are all people that our business depends on for survival.”

Eastleigh, one of the busiest districts in Nairobi, is feeling the heat generated hundreds of miles away at the battlefront in Somalia.

With its unbeatable wholesale prices on goods ranging from clothes, shoes, sugar, electronics and much more, Eastleigh has been a favourite shopping destination for businesspeople from all over the country.

But some of the goods sold in Eastleigh, especially sugar, crosses into the country as contraband from Somalia. They can be traced back to Kismayu, where an elaborate commercial cycle generates millions of dollars in taxes for the Al-Shabaab terror group.

Kismayu became a lifeline and a key source of income for the Al-Shabaab in 2009 when the terror group won a battle over control of the port from the pro-Transitional Federal Government Ras Kamboni militia.

According to the latest UN Monitoring Group report on Somalia and Eritrea, “Al-Shabaab generates between $35 million and $50 million per year in port revenues”.

A considerable part of this revenue – at least $15 million – is from the cycle of trade between charcoal and sugar — shipping companies deliver sugar from the Gulf to Kismayu and collect charcoal for their return trips.

A good portion of the sugar brought into Kismayu ends up in Kenya, smuggled in through the porous border, or thanks to corrupt border point officials, is loaded onto trucks and into Eastleigh where it is re-packaged and sold.

The document points a finger at the Transitional Federal Government, saying it is complicit in maintaining the Kismayu trade corridor.

“The Monitoring Group has confirmed that most commercial motor vessels transporting goods to the port of Mogadishu discharge only part of their cargoes in order to deliver the remainder to Kismayu and collect charcoal destined to Gulf Cooperation Council countries — with the full knowledge of the Mogadishu port authority,” read the strongly worded document.

But with the ongoing Kenyan military offensive against Al-Shabaab, the charcoal trade, and effectively the sugar trade as well, have been disrupted with bags of charcoal destined for Dubai piling up at the port.

This follows a ban on boats that are used to ferry the bags of charcoal at the port. The KDF fears that the boats might be used by the Al-Shabaab to launch an attack.

Back in Eastleigh, sugar traders and wholesalers will not agree to an interview. “This is a very sensitive matter,” says one through a fixer.

“They can not trust anyone now. Not even a journalist. They are afraid that they might be accused of involvement with the Al-Shabaab,” the fixer later explains.

And perhaps rightly so: The Monitoring Group report argues that import and export businesses that opt to use the port of Kismayu where they pay taxes to Al-Shabaab do so consciously and perhaps all too aware that their commercial transactions are accruing a significant financial benefit to Al-Shabaab. This is because they have the option of using alternative ports like Mogadishu for their imports.

On the other hand, the rest of the business community, including Hassan Mustaf, is only hopeful that the operation will come to an end soon.

“I support the Kenyan Army like any other citizen would,” says Hassan.

“But I hope that the government will solve this problem with Somalia soon. We are suffering and our businesses are going down because customers are now afraid of coming here to do business with us. And even though police officers are seen here patrolling the streets, people are still not very sure that they will do their shopping safely,” says Hassan.

“There are, however, a few people from around Nairobi who are still coming to do their shopping, but those from North Eastern have made it a no-go area. They are facing just as many problems with insecurity,” he said.


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