From Taxes to Terror

The situation in Somalia is increasingly one of stalemate, with little pros-pect of either the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) with AMISOM and international support, or al Shabaab (AS) delivering a decisive military victory. However, AS remains adaptive and in control of large parts of Soma-lia, in particular in the south, with partial control over other areas. It is clear that AS has access to several sources to acquire weapons. The acquisition of weapons, ammunition, explosives, and other lethal capacity remains a priority for AS but is poorly understood as a system essential to the effec-tiveness of the insurgency. In October 2021, the Hiraal Institute undertook a four-month project to research the scope, scale, system, and use of AS resources to obtain lethal materiel, both in Somalia and from outside.


The overall system is highly reliant on the Finance Maktab, whose collection of illicit taxation and administration of AS’s finances underpins the feasibility of a process whereby the extensive rev-enues extorted from the Somali popu-lace are repurposed into a means of intimidating, killing and maiming them. Out of an annually planned expendi-ture of approximately USD 100 million, the AS annual planned expenditure on arms procurement is assessed to be USD 24 million, budgeted monthly at USD 2 million, with a further USD 1.8 million on ‘in-house’ explosives and other weapons manufacturing, bud-geted monthly at USD 150,000. Extra arms-related expenditure from within the AS financial surplus is likely. Funds are mainly moved through a mixture of cash, hawala, and bank accounts, with the potential for mobile money transfers to be used for smaller value purchases. The Finance Maktab has a major role in conducting financial oversight and monitoring.

Illicit cross-border weapons flows continue to flourish, particularly from Yemen and transiting through Puntland, though the importance of networks based out of Djibouti is also regularly mentioned. Information acquired on the periphery of recent re-search suggests that AS has potentially transferred responsibility for arms movements to criminal gangs. Other open source reporting has identified organised criminal networks and businesses who facilitate arms smuggling for AS, as well as some of the key ports of interest in Yemen and in Somalia1.

Focused targeting for disruption (geographic) – while not total, it is clear that a considerable portion of the arms entering Somalia come via the Gulf of Aden and through docking sites on the Puntland coast. A focused effort on this area, associated with appropriate capacity building, would have a disruptive impact, albeit that this would need to include measures to ensure the problem did not just relocate elsewhere.

For arms sourced outside the country, there are fewer options, and the group uses traders with particular international links, primarily to Yemen: these are mostly illegal arms traders based in the Puntland region. These arms traders are largely in-dependent of AS, with the arms traders responsible for both sourcing and delivery of weapons to AS. Traders are also non-exclusive, with many of the same traders that supply AS also supplying the Is-lamic State in Somalia (IS-S), other criminal enter-prises and clans. Multiple sources indicate that AS will normally provide the equipment requirement and identify a location for delivery: it is for the arms trader to undertake the arrangements and complete this in the manner that they deem most suitable, in-cluding arranging for shipment and transportation. Some arms traders have their own transportation and smuggling capability, while others will in effect sub-contract with specialist smugglers; this is es-pecially the case for supplies sourced from Yemen.

The destination or delivery point varies according to the order, which part of AS it is for and the resources of the arms trader. Some arms brought from Ye-men are reportedly transferred to AS ownership in Puntland, for instance, while in other instances the handover point will be in south or central Somalia4. There are suggestions that AS will sometimes assist in the coordination and direction of road transport 5 and, in central and south Somalia, AS will often provide transport and security to safeguard the de-livery of supplies to the respective military unit 6 – i.e. in those areas where AS has a more substantial presence or is in direct control of the ground.

Docking locations and ports

Research has identified multiple locations where arms procurement shipments are reported to have come ashore at informal docking sites – for ex-ample, a sheltered bay or natural landing location. Many of these are on the northern Puntland coast with a small number in Galmudug (see Figure 7), with a small number in southern Somalia (see Fig-ure 8). Other shipments, in particular of agricultural fertiliser, come in via the main seaports, although it should be noted that reporting does state that some arms shipments for AS also come via the main official seaports.