Mogadishu’s Ports to Provide Significant Funding for Somalia’s Islamists

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 28

A ship docked at Mogadishu port.

On July 11, Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union (ICU) established control over Mogadishu’s sea port after a two day battle in which over 100 people died and 200 were wounded. With the capture of the port, the ICU now controls most of the city, which had been broken into fiefdoms under the control of warlords during the past 15 years. Yet, this state of affairs ended with the emergence of the Islamic courts and their victories in the city and the nearby towns.

Militiamen loyal to Mohamed Jama Furuh, the Transitional Federal Government’s (TFG) deputy minister of ports, who had controlled the port for several years, handed control of the lucrative port to the ICU on July 12. The port had been officially closed for 15 years following disagreement among the warlords over who should run it. While the port was still used unofficially, it was not under any central control, making its use unpredictable. Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad, the head of the executive committee of the Islamic Courts Council (as the ICU now calls itself) and other top leaders of the ICU have described this as a monumental, progressive development (Shabelle Media Network, July 12). The port falling into the hands of the ICU is a positive development for the group, which now plans to re-open it and profit from its commercial activities. The ICU will be better able to facilitate arms imports through control of the ports (the port of El Maan and Marka are associated with the Mogadishu port), and will be able to generate revenue through a thriving Qat trade, the livestock trade, a profitable charcoal business and the control of the fishing trade on the Somali coastline.

The international community’s greatest fear is that arms shipments will flow through the ports. In the past, the smaller port of Marka, less than 100 kilometers from Mogadishu, had been used for arms imports. Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad (known as Yusuf Indha’adde) had received arms shipments from Eritrea through the port (Somaliland Times, May 20; Terrorism Focus, July 11). In the beginning of March, for instance, a dhow carrying ammunition for the Islamists arrived from Eritrea and allegedly docked at El Maan (UN Monitoring Group on Somalia, April 5). According to a report by a UN panel of experts on Somalia, the arms market in Somalia is supplied by both external and internal sources. Mogadishu’s ports are seen as a good point for trans-shipments, especially for arms that are allegedly being received from Yemen and Eritrea. The Islamic courts are believed to be receiving arms from Eritrea and from private businessmen in Yemen. The UN report outlines the process by which businessmen in Yemen obtain weapons and ammunition from the general population, which are then shipped to Somalia where the demand and prices are much higher (Somalinet News, June 15).

Yet to finance their expansion, the courts are planning to profit from the various trades that will move through the ports, one of which is the lucrative Qat (Khat) trade. In Mogadishu in 2003, it was estimated that trade in the Qat drug plant, whose twigs are chewed as a stimulant, provided significant revenue for the Somali warlords. It was estimated that flights to Mogadishu raised an estimated US$6,000 per day or $170,000 per month. This revenue has gone to the warlords. From this point forward, the revenue will be collected by the ICU. Most of the Qat sent to Somalia comes from Kenya and Ethiopia. It grows naturally in Kenya and is exported to Somalia from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport on a daily basis, landing at various small airstrips throughout Somalia. The reason Qat flows into Somalia is due to its huge domestic demand. Additionally, once Somalis import the drug, it is often shipped to the Gulf states due to Somalia’s cultural and religious linkages with the Middle East, and also due to the convenience of shipping it there. The ICU will now be able to profit from this trade.

Alongside the Qat business are exports of livestock to the Gulf states. In the past, Mogadishu’s ports have failed to ship thousands of animals due to the chaos in the city. For example, 3.2 million heads of cattle were exported through the port of Berbera in northern Somalia in 1997 and more that $100 million in annual cargo was imported to Somalia from Dubai Creek ( Now it will be possible for the ICU to continue this trade out of the Mogadishu ports.

Another source of income for the ICU will be the charcoal trade. In the past, the Gulf states have provided a market for charcoal which is transported by sea to Saudi Arabia. In the Gulf, the profit from charcoal bags is enormous, with traders earning more than $6 profit for an 80-90 kilogram bag. Traders, for example, purchase a bag of charcoal for 35,000 Somali shillings ($3-$4) and sell it for $10 in Saudi Arabia.

The fishing trade will also help to fund the ICU’s operations. The warlords generated funds through the issuance of fishing licenses, and used the money to pay their militias. Those caught fishing without a license often fell victim to the pirate patrols skimming the coastline. Now, with the warlords having been defeated, the ICU will be able to oversee the fishing trade and earn money through the issuance of fishing licenses.

With the new Islamist authority in control of Mogadishu’s ports, the ICU will likely impose taxes on trade traffic. The money earned from this trade will help to fund the Islamists’ operations, and also make it easier for them to receive arms shipments. Additionally, ICU control over the ports will help to stabilize trade traffic through Mogadishu and restart a lucrative economic artery.