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The Importance of Kismayo
Port Serves as Economic Hub for Al-Shabaab
By MHD , TA 06/11/2012
Kismayo overview
@Somalia Report
Kismayo overview

As the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF), Somali Transitional Federal Government Forces (TFG) and Ras-Kamboni fighters progress towards the al-Shabaab stronghold of Kismayo, a port city in Somalia's Lower Jubba region, the militants have been forced to re-strategize to defend the city, which also serves as their main source of income due to the taxes from the thriving seaport.

After the allied forces captured Biibi village last week, 75kms from Kismayo, the commanders of both the TFG and Ras-Kamboni forces re-asserted their plan of seizing Kismayo prompting the miltia to redeploy fighters to the city.

Allies Deploying More Troops

Officials of the joint forces who spoke to Somalia Report said they are completing their last preparations for the operation to seize the city from the Islamist insurgents.

Abdinassir Serar Maah, spokesman of the Ras-Kamboni fighters, confirmed they will be heading to Kismayo in the coming days and plan to use the same to the tactics they have already used to capture towns from the militants including Afmadow and Biibi. He vowed the allies would not stop until they "liberate Kismayo from the threats of al-Shabaab and restore stability and governance to the region. The strength of the insurgents has been weakened and they have lost much credibility in large swaths of the country."

Losing Afmadow was a major setback for the militants as the town is a strategic transportation hub linking major towns in the south-eastern and south-western parts of the country, including Kismayo.

The allied forces are also preparing to launch attacks on four other cities in Jubba regions including Jilib, Janai-Abdalla, Bulla-Hajji and some areas in the coastal areas of the Lower-Jubba region.

“We have no doubt that we will be taking Kismayo from the terror group, whether they try to defend it or not,” said the Ras-Kamboni fighter.

The head of the TFG forces in Jubba regions, General Ismael Sahardiid, said that Somali National Forces and the allied soldiers are prepared and ready to battle al-Shabaab for Kismayo. He stated that they divided the forces into groups and each group has arranged their logistical needs and have been informed of their specific orders during the advance.

Independent sources in Badhaadhe town confirmed to Somalia Report that at least three Kenyan military planes brought more Kenyan Defense Forces into the area as the allied forces reached Biibi village, however it is not yet clear if these troops will march on Kismayo.

Arrival of Fighters

Meanwhile al-Shabaab officials in Kismayo vowed to defend the city and have been redploying troops from other regions in southern Somalia back to Kismayo. Residents told Somalia Report they have seen a steady flow of al-Shabaab fighters, both foreign and local, coming into the city. On May 31st, al-Shabaab held a military parade to show off their power to the locals, ensuring the residents the group will defend Kismayo from an allied attack.

Sheikh Abdifitah Mohamed, an al-Shabaab official in Kismayo who spoke to Somalia Report, confirmed that the militants are mobilizing the local residents including the local tribes and business people in the towns under al-Shabaab authority. He insisted that al-Shabaab leaders met with all the different local clan elders and the business community to make sure that they support the defense of the city.

“The locals are our shoulders economically and spiritually and together with unity and power of God, we will defeat the infidels,” he vowed.

The insurgent group considers Kismayo crucial since it is both an economic backbone to their holy war (jihad) and serves as a strategic location, enabling fighters and supplies to arrive and depart to and from Yemen by boat.

The militants have increased patrols within the city and residents reported seeing armed fighters using boats mounted with machine guns in and around the port. Locals told Somalia Report the fighters patrol from dawn till dusk around the city.

Al-Shabaab has also added a series of checkpoints from Bulla-Hajji in the southern section, and also from the north side of the city particularly in the main districts and villages of Lower-Jubba region. They are highly visible in Jilib to Kamsuma and Bulla-gudud of the Lower-Jubba region.

Residents Flee

Reliable sources in the city confirmed that many locals are fleeing due to the fears of more foreign air-strikes and bombardment from the warships that patrol near the coastline of Kismayo and anticipation of a land based attack.

“I have arranged to take all my siblings and parents from Kismayo and settled in Qam-Qam, a small village near the river of Jubba in Gosha area,” Mulki Abdulakdir, a local resident in Qam-Qam told Somalia Report.

Those civilians who remain in the city for financial reasons or due to pressure from al-Shabaab told Somalia Report the situation is tense as most believe fighting is imminent. The group has been known to force port workers to join their jihad.

Significance of the City

Kismayo Airport
@Somalia Report
Kismayo Airport

Kismayo is the provincial headquarter of Lower-Jubba region, severing an economic hub for the southern part of the country, as well as the militant group by hosting one of the largest seaports in the country and as well as one airport. In addition the city can sustain farming in the fertile Juba Valley and fishing off shore in the Indian Ocean.

Because of the economic viability of the city, Kismayo has undergone several administrative authorities after clashes various forces clashed during the civil war but ended up under the control of the Islamists on August 22, 2008 after a fierce three day battle against the former Juba Valley Alliance (JVA) colonel Barre Aden Shire (Barre Hirrale). Since then, the Islamists have controlled and ruled the city with the Islamic sharia law and claimed the income from the port to fund their jihad.

While the seaport remains viable, the city's airport became unusable after the militants let them deteriorate.

The Seaport

The city port, built in 1964 and refurbished in 1984, constitutes the largest economic hub of the al-Qaeda-affiliated militant. The port works efficiently for nine months out of the year, but the struggles three months each year due to waves and monsoons, making docking difficult and time consuming. Those three months - July, August, and September - are known as Kuusi (referred to as no money) months.

Kismayo Port
©Somalia Report
Kismayo Port

The harbor has a 2,070-foot-long (630 m) four-berth capacity, but can also host more smaller boat such as dhows which frequent the area. Typically, two large cargo ships and seven smaller boats are in the port at a time for docking, according to Mohamud Ali Shire, a former seaport manager of Kismayo during Jubba Valley Alliance (JVA) tenure in 2005. In one month, the port usually handles 38 boats for loading and off loading.

Al-Shabaab currently charges US$1.50 per unit ton and the fee for a 6000 ton capacity ship is $2225 dollars and the average income for al-Shabaab is $15 - $20 million dollars per month or up to $240 million dollars per year. If the allies seize the city, al-Shabaab will no longer have a reliable or robust funding base.

The main economic activity in the port is the import and the export of goods with charcoal and khat as the main commodity.

"Capturing Kismayo is important because it will cut the main source of revenue for al-Shabaab. They cannot win this war. We will take Kismayo from them. It is time they thought about avoiding a bloodbath," Sheikh Madobe, the leader of Ras Kamboni Ahmed Mohamed Islam (Ahmed Madobe) told the media.

Power Struggles in the Aftermath of the Battle

Because of the economic viability of the city, speculation abounds about the motives of the groups attempting to seize it. Not only does al-Shabaab depend on the income from the port, but the TFG will need that income to revitalize the country. Others, such as former warlords, are seeking to pocket the revenue.

Ras Kamboni Leader Ahmed Madobe
Ras Kamboni Leader Ahmed Madobe

The most prominent people vying for control of Kismayo are Colonel Barre Hirrale who hails from Marehan sub-clan of Darod and who controlled Kismayo for more than eight years and Ahmed Madobe the current leader of Ras-Kamboni fighters and who hails from Ogaden sub-clan of Darod. In the past, both clans fought over the control of the city and both leaders have faced each other in the battle of capturing Kismayo in 2007 while Colonel Barre Hiralle was the TFG Defense Minister and a Member of Parliament and Ahmed Madobe was a regional representative of the ousted Islamic Union Courts (ICU). After the Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in 2006 to back the TFG government, they rushed to capture Kismayo in August 2007.

Although both leaders are currently on the same mission with the KDF and TFG forces and on the frontlines, they have separate militias loyal to their political views and hail from their sub-clans, which could cause another civil war once the city falls.

Political analyst professor Mohamed Kastra said an intermediary needs to meet with the two potential leaders who then must immediately agree to terms before the city is seized. He argued that there must be a grass roots level of understanding and the elders from the two sub-clans need to come into dialogue on the plans for the region. This can lead to a sound administration as the economic resources of the region are sufficient if utilized properly. He warned against repeating what happened earlier during the reign of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed when 'who to rule the city' was based on the tribal lines.

In addition, local self-declared regional administrative authorities, Jubba and Azania, will also trying to assert their control of Kismayo.