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Gimme Some Sugar

The Real Source of Al-Shabab's Income

A worker weighs and packs bags of sugar at the Mumias sugar factory in western Kenya February 24, 2015. Thomas Mukoya / Reuters

In recent years, much has been made of the alleged connection between the terrorist group al Shabab and the illegal ivory trade in Africa. A report from the Elephant Action League in 2013, for example, suggested a strong connection between al Shabab and the poaching and trafficking of ivory, going on to estimate that the trade contributed up to 40 percent of the funds needed to pay fighters’ salaries.

Recent research, however, has concluded that the connection between al Shabab and ivory is far less significant than many policymakers and law-enforcement agencies thought. For example, a recent Royal United Services Institute paper argues that poaching is more likely to be “opportunistic, ad hoc, and small-scale.” Instead, reports from both the UN Somalia Monitoring Group and Kenya-based Journalists for Justice have suggested, it is the group’s trade in another white gold—contraband sugar—allegedly facilitated by the Kenyan military (KDF) that sustains

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