MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia’s hardline Islamist group al Shabaab has ordered businesses and shop vendors on the outskirts of the capital to remove English and Somali posters and replace them with billboards in Arabic.
The latest edict announced from loudspeakers perched on cars is a sign the militants are intent on stamping their own strict laws on areas they still control, after withdrawing from the heart of Mogadishu early last month.
Residents of camp settlements at Kilometre 13, Elasha, Lafole and Afgoy on the outskirts of Mogadishu said the rebels, who have banned musical ringtones, movies and dancing at weddings, have warned residents they could face an Islamic court if they fail to comply within a month.
“They already started tearing down the main shop signs last night after they imposed a curfew in the town. They ordered us to change signs into Arabic, which can’t be understood by the people, since most understand either Somali or English,” Abdi Jamal, a businessman in Kilometre 13 told Reuters.
“In fact, it is not logical even according to Islam and will have an impact on the smooth running of our business activity. Even worse, they also ordered us not to go to Bakara Market for business,” he said, referring to the capital’s main market which was al Shabaab’s base before its fighters retreated.
Al Shabaab officials declined to comment.
Al Shabaab has been waging an insurgency since 2007 against the Western-backed government in a bid to impose its own strict version of Sharia law across the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.
Al Shabaab controls large chunks of southern and central Somalia and was camped in the capital until its fighters pulled back in August, saying it was a tactical move.
Somalia has been going through cycles of violence with no effective central government since the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
In a sign the al Qaeda-affiliated group may be facing a funding shortage, camp residents said the militants had forced people to pay an annual Islamic donation in advance.
“Al Shabaab has taken zakaat (donation) from all business owners this week, but it is the wrong time,” shopkeeper Ali Dicisow told Reuters from Elasha.
“They have taken 2.5 percent of our cash and of the value of our stock. We had to give the exact amount required because anyone who miscalculated his wealth would risk al Shabaab taking away half of it. This week, we unwillingly paid next year’s Zakaat in advance,” he said.
Residents also described an atmosphere of fear since al Shabaab cemented their rule on the camp towns after they withdrew from Mogadishu.
“No two people can talk together in the streets. We mention al Shabaab’s name in whispers and only in houses. Women who go out just to pour dirty water are grabbed and jailed if they do not have the heavy veils,” resident Osman Qeyley told Reuters from Lafole town.
“We have no hope at all. All al Shabaab leaders are here with their fighters and the government has no power to reach us. We know al Shabaab will not allow us to move to Mogadishu if the government approaches here,” he said.