Trump Is Feeding Somalia’s Economy To The Terrorist Group al-Shabaab

Written by Munira Devey |

My mother receives a phone call. She finds out her cousin and two of his sons were kidnapped, stored in shipping containers and held for ransom in Somalia by terrorist group, al-Shabaab. Two days later, I read airstrikes had taken place in Somalia, leaving me to question the effectiveness and perhaps intention of these air strikes in Somalia.

Al-Shabaab’s kidnapping of locals for ransom forces the Somali diaspora, (those living in separation from their home country), to forego some of the limited money they must send back to support friends, family and neighbours. This procedure of sending money back home is known as remittances. In the case of Somalia, the diaspora are largely refugees who have fled from a civil war.

They have had to restart lives that were once established and take the responsibility for the provision and facilitation of necessities to their family, friends and neighbours that remain in Somalia. The necessities include: education, health care, buying land, starting businesses and building houses.

Whilst supporting the people, the Somali diaspora enable the development of Somalia. Al-Shabaab’s practice is a financial weapon, seldom if ever, spoken of in the Western sphere by non-Somalis. Within the British Somali community, it is stomach achingly no longer such a foreigner to the ear.

A large chunk of Somalia’s economy has relied on remittance payments and was virtually built up by the national diaspora bank of remittance payments.

Therefore, why shouldn’t al-Shabaab want to tap into one of the pillars of Somalia’s economy? In 2015 alone, remittances to Somalia were estimated to be $1.4bn dollars, counting for almost ¼ of Somalia’s GDP at the time.

Source: Data set from the World Bank – compiled into pie chart by Munira Devey

Terrorists must sustain their funding to afford attacks. They have become better at diversifying their funding methods finding alternative routes when one is blockaded, but foreign policy is lacking malleability and speed.

Airstrikes do not limit al-Shabaab significantly. Instead, they act as a signpost for them to venture into raising money differently. They may reduce the frequency of their attacks in the short-run, but this is not good enough, in the long-run they are, in fact, helping them to save their funds for greater catastrophic attacks.

To dodge these airstrikes, al-Shabaab split up and move around. Here, kidnapping the locals has become a new favoured way of financing. The more airstrikes there are, the more common this updated fund-raising practice of al-Shabaab’s becomes.

These airstrikes have a domino effect, stunting Somalia’s development, as the limited money that can be sent ends up being forcibly funnelled into an area for which it is not intended.

Source: Data set from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism – compiled into graph by Munira Devey

While airstrikes do provide the function in terminating and limiting the activities of terrorists, its over usage becomes worrisome and questionable in, not only its achievements, but the purpose behind it. Since Donald Trump won the presidency, Somalia has been hit by a repetitive rain of airstrikes.

Yet, at his request, the US have processed removing troops from Syria and Afghanistan. Keeping in mind Trump’s nationalism, there is very little doubt that the escalated airstrikes in Somalia serve more as an act of revenge. This stems from a feeling of fury and embarrassment left by the Battle of Mogadishu that commenced on the 3rd of October 1993 and ended the next day.

This battle, dramatized by the movie Black Hawk Down, was a failed operation, intended to last only 1 hour, to capture one Somali warlord. Instead, it turned into a 24-hour rescue mission by the US.  Somali militia men fuelled by their cause, and multiplied by loyalty to their country, ripped 2 Black Hawk helicopters from the sky, injured 73 and killed 18 of America’s most elite military forces. Eventually the US did capture their desired warlord. However, it remained a pyrrhic victory tarnishing America’s confidence to establish US policy in Africa in such a way.

That is, until Trump has his way in the White House.

Somalia has witnessed a rise in the frequency of air-strikes coupled with casualties since Donald Trump took office in January 2017. He killed more than double the amount of people Obama has in his entire 8 years via airstrikes in just over 1 year of his office.

Source: Data set from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism – analysed and compiled into graph by Munira Devey

These strikes hurled into Somalia not only have a questionable purpose, but most importantly they are ineffective in achieving their aim of destroying al-Shabaab. The group have simply evolved and learnt how to best deal with these airstrikes, by shifting the pressure onto regular civilians and the diaspora.

Whilst airstrikes frequently take the lives of civilians, Somalia is unique in the consequences it experiences from them. Al-Shabaab now claim their share of remittances, taking food straight out of the mouths of Somalis and detracting from Somalia’s economy.