EDITORIAL: Somalia Chamber of Commerce should be independent but guard against Al-Shabaab sympathizers
EDITORIAL | Somalia’s main trade lobby group has faced recent turmoil after authorities attempted to force changes in its leadership in a bid to professionalize the organization amid claims of Al-Shabaab infiltration and influence.
But this week, Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, clarified at a media briefing that the Somali Chamber of Commerce and Industry would remain intact, revoking an earlier announcement by the Trade Minister who had dissolved the board in December 2020.
There are two sides to this coin. One is that Somalia must continuously cultivate an environment for self-regulation. Countries across the world allow the private sector to group themselves and lobby for the affairs of members on matters of economic policy, taxation, or investment climate.
This is why the Somali Chamber of Commerce should be treated no different. As the principal organ for investors and businesspeople in Somalia, it brings together an influential lot. Its members number more than 150 and include key operators in the telecom sector, logistics, transportation, construction, healthcare, and import-export businesses.
Last year, its members paid the biggest percentage of the $250 million collected in taxes by the government. But responsibility is for us all. In the past three years, the Chamber faced accusations that al-Shabaab had either infiltrated its ranks or had forced its members to pay illegal taxes to the terror group.
In January last year, its Benadir branch was disbanded after claims of terror merchants using the body to collect its parallel taxes. Then in December, the Trade Minister announced he was dissolving the entire board of the Chamber, and appointing a caretaker team following complaints from members. The same Chamber had been disbanded in 2017 on claims of unprofessional conduct.
Abdi Abshir Dhore, the Managing Director of Somalia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry argued theirs is a private, independent organization in which the government has no role in determining its leaders, although he did admit that they work closely with the government.
It is clear that the Chamber felt external interference from the government. But while their complaints may be legit, the Chamber cannot run away from responsibility to ensure its ranks do not pledge allegiance to the enemy of Somalia: Al-Shabaab.
All Somalis, including the Chamber’s own members, have been killed by roadside bombs, suicide attacks, or gunmen raids linked to Al-Shabaab. So it makes no sense to believe that the Chamber may be covertly supporting Al-Shabaab.
However, various reports including that of the UN Panel of Experts on Somalia as well as the Hiraal Institute in Mogadishu have released reports that say al-Shabaab collects as much as $15 million monthly from businesses, most of whom are members of the Chamber.
This is not to say the Chamber endorses this collection. In fact, officials of the Chamber have often condemned the extortion and the killings. But it is possible the Chamber’s members are often between a rock and a hard place.
The way to go about this is to seek professional guidance on how to strengthen its own internal systems of vetting. Businesses shouldn’t benefit from the Chamber’s networks just because they run operations within Somalia. They must be seen to adhere to the law, filter their own practices, and vehemently guard against Al-Shabaab terrorist group by vetting who they hire or who they work with.
Of course, the overall responsibility for securing everyone lies with the government of Somalia. We believe the actual safety of Somalia is the sum of contributions by everyone though.