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AFRICOM: ‘Terrorist groups’ remain a challenge across Africa

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AFRICOM Commander General Thomas D. Waldhauser with Somali President Mohamed A. Farrmajo

The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) is maintaining a consistent presence across Africa in order to address security concerns. But terrorist groups continue to pose a threat in many countries with weak governance.

AFRICOM Commander General Thomas D. Waldhauser is in Brussels this week to meet with the European Union (EU) Chiefs of Defense (CHODs) and discuss the current state of affairs in a number of African countries. A number of terrorist groups including the so-called Islamic State (IS), Boko Haram and al-Shabaab maintain a significant presence in many regions, but continue to face military pushback.

DW spoke with General Waldhauser about AFRICOM’s role in Africa and the present security situation.

DW: Overall, is AFRICOM and its partner governments experiencing success in pushing back terrorist groups such as IS, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab?

General Waldhauser: One of the key parts of what we try to do at AFRICOM is to develop the capacity and capability of African partner nations which will allow them to take on these problems themselves – in other words Africans solving African problems. So in places like Somalia we train and advise the military so that they are able to take on these threats themselves.

We know about the pushback efforts against IS but how much of a presence do they have across Africa at the moment?

IS is present across the continent in various degrees. If you take Libya for example there was a significant presence in Sirte six to eight months ago. In fact they owned the city for quite some time. But since we struck IS in the desert again in the middle in January the numbers are now small. They do not own any major territory but they continue to be an issue for us. We also continue to watch other parts of the continent, whether it’s IS in West Africa or in the Lake Chad Basin region. But our role there is to provide training for the Lake Chad Basin region countries to take on that problem themselves. So IS is in various locations across the continent. We continue to watch them while keeping in mind that the core threat is in Iraq and Syria. We also take the opportunity to build relationships with our partner nations to take on those targets.

Let’s look at Somalia. Of course there was a recent tragedy in which a member of the US military was killed for the first time since 1993. Piracy is also on the rise there. So overall what does Somalia look like?

The tragic death of Chief Petty Officer Millican here a couple weeks ago underscores the fact that you know the missions that are going on to train and assist inside Somalia are dangerous. It is the first death in quite some time in Somalia and it is tragic. On the issue of piracy I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s been a groundswell or a significant uptick in piracy. There’s been a handful of events over the last month that we have to watch closely. The European Union (EU) plays a big role in this because they actually have ships in the region to deal with this problem. But it is too early to say that it’s a significant rise and we have a problem on our hands.

In Uganda they have officially closed the pursuit of Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). I understand that the U.S. didn’t necessarily think it was such a good idea to formally announce they were ending the hunt for him. What’s going on in Uganda at the moment?

Stability. I think it’s no surprise that last month the mission to specifically hunt Joseph Kony came to an end. The LRA movement has been reduced down to 100 or so from perhaps a thousand at its peak. Although we did not get Kony himself, we know he’s on the run. Perhaps at some point he will be caught. But there comes a time when the mission has run its course and we are now transitioning to a steady state. We hope to continue to work with those countries who have been a part of that overall Kony mission. But the time has come for us to move forward. We’re not overly concerned about a [security] void. That was a big part of considerations when we finally closed the mission down. But if we stay on top of it and have a smooth transition plan I think we’ll be ok. We’ll just continue to monitor as we go.

What about Libya? If you look at it from the outside it still seems like such a huge mess.

Libya continues to be a challenge, but I would say that if you look at it from the standpoint of this time last year, there are some positive things which have happened. Obviously IS no longer control Sirte. Their presence in the country is still there, but it’s been reduced to really just survival mode. I think another key thing to point out is the recent meeting between rival leaders General Khalifa Haftar and Fayez Serraj. All of our partners have tried to get these two to come together and lay the basis for an agreement. So we have to take that opportunity and see how we can turn that into a positive. We’ve said all along that there’s no military solution in Libya. There is a political solution. And this is what a political solution looks like.

Interview: Terri Schulz

United States Marine Corps General Thomas D. Waldhauser is the fourth Commander of AFRICOM.

Briefing Room

Somali government introduces 5% sales tax to boost revenues

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The Somali government has launched an aggressive tax collection campaign. The administration has imposed a five percent sales tax as part of efforts to win billions of dollars in international debt relief. However there are concerns on whether the country’s powerful businessmen pay up.

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Hunted and hated, Somali tax collectors gird for battle

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MOGADISHU, Feb 16 (Reuters) – Ahmed Nur moves through the Somali capital of Mogadishu with a bodyguard of six men, a pistol in the waistband of his baggy trousers. He speaks of his work in whispers; seven of his colleagues have been killed in the last three years. But Nur is no intelligence operative. He’s a tax collector.

Now the central government’s imposition of a five percent sales tax last month, part of its efforts to win billions of dollars in international debt relief, have put him at the heart of a showdown with the country’s most powerful businessmen.

So far, the government’s efforts have been slowly working; domestic revenue was up to $141 million in 2017 from $110 million in 2016, said Finance Minister Abdirahman Duale Beileh.

But much more is needed before the government is self-sufficient, a key step toward accessing about $4.6 billion in international debt relief. The final amount is still being assessed.

Somalia has been wracked by civil war since 1991, and the cash-starved, U.N.-backed government in Mogadishu is desperate to claw in the revenue it needs to pay staff and provide services like security.

The military, which is supposed to fight al-Qaeda linked insurgents, is in tatters and a combination of corruption and cash shortages mean soldiers rarely receive their $100 per month paycheques.

“People ask for security services prior to paying tax. But the government cannot deliver the required services to the public unless tax is collected,” Nur confided to Reuters in a restaurant, glancing over his shoulder. “It is like the egg and chicken puzzle.”

Some progress was made last year: tax agreements have been reached with airlines and telecoms companies, and an income tax exemption for parliamentarians has been reversed.

“These are important measures and show the strong commitment of the authorities to reform,” said Mohamad Elhage, who leads the International Momentary Fund’s Somalia work.

Debt forgiveness would give the government access to credit that could be used to fund services, binding Somalia’s often quarrelling federal states closer together.

It could also wean the government off cash from donors such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which often have diverging agendas that can destabilise Somalia’s fragile politics.

“Increasing our revenue is a very important benchmark for the road map to clear the (debt) arrears,” said Beileh. “Our objective to cover our expenses is very important.”

Achieving that will depend, in part, on men like Nur.
TAX COLLECTION ON THE FRONTLINE

Somalia’s al Shabaab rebels are known for their ruthless efficiency at collecting tax and spy networks that track profits. Businessmen misstating their profits are likely to get a terse reminder to pay the difference or face a bullet; tax collectors who cheat the movement could be executed, a former al Shabaab enforcer told Reuters.

Al Shabaab were not available for comment.

As an agent of the U.N.-backed government, Nur cannot dole out amputations or executions. If a businessman refuses to pay up he can theoretically be arrested, if he has no powerful friends to protect him. But often, they will simply prevaricate, said Nur.

That’s what many businessmen are doing in the face of Somalia’s new tax. Mogadishu port has not unloaded a commercial vessel for nine days, port authorities told Reuters on Wednesday, as businessmen refuse to pay the new levy.

Trader Aden Abdullahi complained that he was already paying for port services and customs, and paying the Islamic tax of zakat to the poor. He can’t afford another five percent, he said.

“We see this idea as intentionally or unintentionally direct economic war on Mogadishu traders,” he said, shaking his head in disapproval in his wholesale grocery shop.

“The other problem is that the rebels tax us and I am sure they will also raise tax if the government raises tax.”

Some Somalis also say they are reluctant to pay up to an administration that many consider corrupt and inefficient. Almost all of Somalia’s budget goes on paying its politicians and civil servants; ordinary citizens see little being spent on improving public health, education or infrastructure in their bullet-scarred city.

“We pay various taxes by force. There is no beneficial return from the government. We do not even have roads and I have been paying these taxes at gunpoint for the last ten years,” 40-year-old minibus driver Hashi Abdulle said, referring to money extorted at government-controlled roadblocks.

But Minister Beileh says that criticism is outdated and citizens are confusing private extortion with public taxes. The government is putting reforms in place, he said, like trying to work out how to issue individual tax numbers and empowering the ministry of finance to take the lead on tax collection.

“People are used to dealing with … individuals, individual offices, individual soldiers, illegal tax collectors who did not belong to government,” he said.

“Changing that culture is also becoming a challenge … We are trying to close all the loopholes.”

(Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld; writing by Katharine Houreld; editing by Giles Elgood)

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Briefing Room

Somalia Foreign Minister Wants IGAD Open Borders After The Government Rejected

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Looks like Somali Foreign Minister didn’t get the memo when he was talking to Africa 24 TV.

Minister Ahmed Awad agrees with IGAD Free Movement Proposal “We’re comfortable (with the open border) in fact we encourage it, we welcome the region’s borders to be open, the economy of the countries in the region to be integrated. Somalis & Somalia will benefit very much from such open border” Foreign Minister Awad said, while last Monday Somalia said it would not sign a deal with IGAD member countries that will allow free movement of citizens.

 

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