Multi-billion dollar illicit trade helping to fund terror in East AfricaThe proceeds of illicit trade go towards funding campaigns of terror, while Somali warlords profit from the thousands of bags of cheap, illicit sugar that are smuggled into Kenya only daily basis.
Trade in counterfeit or fake goods, which are usually smuggled across borders, is helping to finance extremism in East Africa allowing such terror groups as al-Shabaab, to operate with near impunity.
According to a new report commissioned by the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) and authored by Sir Ivor Roberts, a senior CEP senior advisor, terrorists groups continue to cash in on the illegal ivory trade to pay their soldiers.
Exact figures are hard to come by, but a study conducted by Kenya’s Anti-Counterfeit Authority between October 2019 and February 2020 shows that illicit trade cost Kenya KSh103 billion (just over $1 billion) in revenue in 2018.
The report highlights that East Africa—a key security partner in the war on terror and a principal engine of economic development on the African continent—is being critically undermined by illicit trade.
The proceeds go towards funding campaigns of terror, while Somali warlords profit from the thousands of bags of cheap, illicit sugar that are smuggled into Kenya only daily basis.
In the report An Unholy Alliance: Links Between Extremism and Illicit Trade in East Africa, Sir Ivor reveals that terror groups such as al-Shabaab and ISIS-linked affiliates in Somalia and Mozambique, as well as Central African militias, urban gangs, and international crime groups are increasingly targeting East Africa as a destination market for illicit trade, as well as a transport hub for the mass import and export of illegal goods.
Meanwhile, the multi-million-dollar illegal tobacco industry funds corruption, insurgency, and the illegal arms trade across the region.
Sir Ivor writes, “As illicit trade networks continue to expand and mature in their sophistication, the cost to East African society has been enormous. At every link in the illicit chain, economic, social, and political harm is done to East African society, while terror and crime groups grow stronger.”
CEP is a not-for-profit, non-partisan, international policy organization formed to combat the growing threat from extremist ideologies. Led by a renowned group of former world leaders and diplomats it combats extremism by pressuring financial and material support networks; countering the narrative of extremists and their online recruitment; and advocating for smart laws, policies, and regulations.
Many terrorist and extremist groups operating in and around East Africa, including al-Shabaab, ISIS, and the Lord’s Resistance Army, are supported and sustained by the illicit trade, as they continue to benefit from ill-gotten gains. Asian crime syndicates, Latin American narco-traffickers, and other international crime groups have also earmarked the region as a key location for smuggling narcotics, wildlife, precious stones, and counterfeit goods.
As East Africa struggles to recover from the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sir Ivor believes the region must prioritise measures which target illicit trafficking.
“The most effective way from the East African region, and the wider international community, to fight extremism, crime, and corruption is to turn off the taps of illicit trade. This can ensure critical revenues are not lost to the shadow economy but are instead invested in key services. Combating illicit trade should be the number one priority for East African governments and their international allies. This issue goes beyond the borders of East Africa, and it is imperative that the international community pay heed,’ Sir Ivor said.