EDITORIAL | Somalia’s main business lobby group has faced recent unrest after authorities tried to force changes in its leadership in a bid to professionalize the organization amid allegations of Shabaab infiltration.
But this week Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble clarified during a press briefing that the Somali Chamber of Commerce and Industry would remain intact, revoking an earlier announcement by the Minister of Commerce who dissolved the board of directors in December.
There are two sides to this coin. The first is that Somalia must constantly cultivate an environment of self-regulation. Countries around the world allow the private sector to come together and lobby for the affairs of members on matters of economic policy, taxation or investment climate.
That is why the Somali Chamber of Commerce should not be treated any differently. As the main body for investors and businessmen in Somalia, it brings together an influential group. Its members number more than 150 and include key operators in the telecommunications, logistics, transport, construction, health and import-export sectors.
Last year, its members paid the largest percentage of the $ 250 million the government collected in taxes. But the responsibility is on all of us. Over the past three years, the House has faced accusations that al-Shabaab either infiltrated its ranks or coerced its members into paying illegal taxes to the terrorist group.
In January last year, its Benadir branch was dissolved after allegations of terrorist merchants using the body to collect its parallel taxes. Then, in December, the Minister of Commerce announced that he was dissolving the entire Board of Directors of the National Chamber and appointing an interim team following complaints from members. The same chamber was dissolved in 2017 for allegations of unprofessional behavior.
Abdi Dorre, the director general of the Somali Chamber of Commerce argued that theirs is a private and independent organization in which the government has no role in determining its leadership, although he admitted that they worked closely with the government.
It is clear that the House sensed an outside interference from the government. But while their complaints may be legitimate, the House cannot shirk the responsibility of ensuring that its ranks do not swear allegiance to the enemy: al-Shabaab.
All Somalis, including members of the House, have been killed by roadside bombs, suicide bombings or armed man raids linked to al-Shabaab. So it makes no sense to believe that the Chamber can secretly support Al-Shabaab.
However, various reports, including that of the United Nations Panel of Experts on Somalia as well as that of the Hiraal Institute in Mogadishu, have published reports that al-Shabaab raises up to $ 15 million per month from companies, most of which are members of the Chamber.
This does not mean that the House approves this collection. In fact, House officials have often condemned the extortion and murder. But it is possible that House members are often between a rock and a hard place.
The way to do this is to seek professional advice on how to strengthen your own internal audit systems. Businesses should not benefit from House networks just because they run operations in Somalia. They should be seen adhering to the law, filtering their own practices, and vehemently protecting themselves against Shabaabs by checking who they hire or who they work with.
Of course, the overall responsibility for securing everyone lies with the government of Somalia. We believe that the real security of Somalia is the sum of everyone’s contributions.