Somalia’s largest telco is fighting back claims it aided militant groups to attack communication structures in Kenya in exchange for protection.
Instead, Hormuud Telecom says it has equally been a victim of the terrorist group, losing staff and property it owns and has not aided the group.
Reacting to a report by the UN Panel of Experts on Somalia, Hormuud argued it was committed to supporting the Mogadishu authorities and the African Union Mission in Somalia to defeat terrorism, for the better of communities.
The company’s spokesman, Mr Abdulahi Mohamud, said Hormuud has usually been caught in the crossfire of government forces and the Al-Shabaab.
“Hormuud Telecom is a business that follows international standards of ethics. On the contrary, we have lost 59 staff since 2009, often caught in the middle as government and Amisom forces fight against terrorists,” he said.
“On many occasions, Hormuud has been a victims of terrorism, a circumstantial regional war. Eleven of our employees have been killed by militants linked to ISIS after they refused to pay up extortion to them.”
The Panel of Experts, initially known as the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, said in the report that Hormuud had several times been caught in the middle of factions of Al-Shabaab as they extort companies to raise revenues.
In one fight in November 2018, a faction allied to ISIL attacked and killed 11 employees of the company in Mogadishu reportedly because they declined to pay ‘protection’ fees.
The report also claimed that, under forced circumstances, Hormuud had cooperated with the Al-Shabaab to organise revenge attacks on the Kenya Defence Forces, by targeting communication masts owned by Safaricom in the north-eastern region, to curtain intelligence gathering by Kenyan security agencies.
KDF has routinely denied engaging in scorch-earth policy against Hormuud.
On Thursday, the company said it was open for audit to determine its operations.
“We want the world to know we are the best winners of peace and security in Somalia and the region. We do try to do our business away from politics as that is the surest way out of poverty for the people of the region.”
Known colloquially as an ICT warfare, the Panel thinks both sides had engaged in destruction of masts to undercut each other, but warned such could interfere with genuine humanitarian work.
“There are humanitarian implications to the long-term loss of telecommunications coverage within Somalia, including impeding the coordination of relief efforts, the transfer of food vouchers and the receipt of remittances from outside the country.”
Shabaabs have been accused by the Panel of extorting business in Somalia to finance their operations, especially in the wake of restrictions against charcoal smuggling.
Hormuud, which operates in central and southern Somalia, is the largest telecom with services in mobile telephony, mobile money, Internet and other key sectors providing what it calls efficient and low-cost services.