Mogadishu — Al-Shabaab leaders have exposed their group's financial vulnerability after making a series of appeals over the past several months to Somali tribes and businessmen to provide financial support for their terrorist activities, according to Somali political analysts and observers.
In an audio message released in December by al-Kataib Media Foundation, al-Shabaab's media arm, al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu al-Zubair, admitted publicly that al-Shabaab fighters had been defeated in a series of battles against Somali and allied forces. In the message, he appealed to the Somali people to stand by and support his group financially.
"I would like to tell the Muslim people of Somalia to stand by your honest mujahedeen fellow countrymen and to give them money as they fight to protect Islam," he said.
Ali Mohamed Hassan, a former al-Shabaab representative in the Banadir region, urged Mogadishu residents and businessmen on December 25th to provide financial support to al-Shabaab so it can fund its military operations. "We call on merchants to support the mujahedeen and to give their money in the name of Allah," he said.
Even months earlier in June, before the group's strategic loss of Kismayo, Godane called on Somali tribes to support the militant group's fight against the Somali government. Less than one week later, Yusuf Sheikh Isse, al-Shabaab's leader in the Middle Shabelle region, called on tribes and businessmen to make financial contributions to the group's operations.
"The radical al-Shabaab group is currently going through its most vulnerable period financially in years, and its repeated calls for Somali tribes and businessmen to provide financial donations reflects the financial crisis from which it is suffering," said Omar Farah, Arabic editor for the Somali National News Agency.
"They are also unable to finance their terrorist operations as a result of the financial problems they face, which has caused the group's weakness and decline," he told Sabahi.
In an interview with London-based al-Hayat newspaper on December 29th, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said al-Shabaab's downfall is near. "Al-Shabaab has started to fall apart and disintegrate," Mohamud said. "Its central command has been defeated and its fighters have started to flee."
"Al-Shabaab is now militarily weak and might be soon defeated, but the problem is to eradicate their extremist ideology once [fighters] are integrated into society," he said.
The group's latest attempt to raise funds hinges on tribal support rather than ideology, which further indicates the huge financial difficulties al-Shabaab is facing and its desperation, said political analyst Mohamud Yusuf.
"Al-Shabaab has lost its sources of funding ever since its members were expelled from Mogadishu, Kismayo and other centres of commerce, which would have provided them with ample revenues through taxation," Yusuf told Sabahi. "For this reason, the group is desperately trying to court certain Somali tribes and businessmen in an effort to obtain funding for its military operations."
Merchants reject al-Shabaab's appeal
Hassan Mohamed, a merchant in Mogadishu, said al-Shabaab's calls for businessmen to finance its terrorist operations would fall on deaf ears.
"Somali merchants have been burdened by al-Shabaab's blackmail as the group would take their money by force under the pretext of zakat or in the name of false jihad," Mohamed told Sabahi. "To drown someone and then ask that same person for help as he is drowning is illogical. Al-Shabaab's call to merchants for help is not much different from that."
Mukhtar Sheikh Abdullahi, a wholesale food merchant at Bakara market, said Somali merchants reject al-Shabaab's calls for help.
"Will al-Shabaab build a school, a university or an orphanage so that they can ask merchants to donate their money? The answer is simply no," he told Sabahi. "For this reason, it is unfair for merchants to give their money to terrorists who kill innocent civilians."
"We would like to tell al-Shabaab and its members to get away and leave us alone to live our lives as we choose to. We want to be able to freely do business," he said.