South and Central Somalia –
Reports from areas under al-Shabaab control indicate that the extremist group has enforced a ban on using the Hormuud mobile money transfer service, EVC Plus. According to our sources, Hormuud services have been consequently suspended in the affected areas.
This development follows directives from senior al-Shabaab leaders, who ordered Hormuud mobile money service to deny access to the Salaam Somali Bank (SSB) payroll service for the Somali National Army (SNA) personnel. This service facilitates salary payments to soldiers via mobile phones. Hormuud officials resisted the al-Shabaab’s demands, asserting their obligation to maintain the service as directed by the Somali government.
Government employees and soldiers typically receive salaries through various banks, including the SSB, Hormuud’s subsidiary. Al-Shabaab’s focus on targeting Hormuud Telecom and its affiliated bank represents a novel escalation in the group’s malicious activities.
Hormuud is the largest telecom company in Somalia, established in 2002 from the ashes of al-Barakaat. Its mobile money transfer service, EVC Plus, was introduced in 2011. It acted as a unique way of transferring and receiving mobile money, operating like SMS. Moreover, millions of Somalis, including the most vulnerable communities, rely on the EVC Plus. Because this is the only way to move money around without the need to travel with cash.
Salaam Somali Bank (SSB), established in October 2009, is the first international bank to operate in Somalia since 1991. It is Hormuud’s subsidiary.
“The most pressured actor” in the Somali conflict
According to the Hiraal Institute’s 2019 report on Somali banks and telecom providers doing business in a war zone, Hormuud has “faced the most pressure from all actors in the Somali conflict.” The report describes how al-Shabaab used to stop the company from building new antennas and harassed its supply trucks. The trucks have also been a frequent target of al-Shabaab’s illegal taxation.
However, security providers have allegedly harassed Hormuud as well. According to the Hiraal Institute, the Somali government, federal member states, and African Union troops sometimes “switch off Hormuud antennas along the entire routes when convoys are moving.” The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS, previously AMISOM) reportedly used to interrupt the network in some Hiran regions for up to five hours every day, affecting millions of customers and causing tremendous financial losses.