News / Africa

    UN Charcoal Ban Crucial to Somalia Survival

    More than $25 million worth of charcoal is delivered each year by truck to Kismayo and the al-Shabab-controlled port of Barawe for export to the United Arab Emirates and other Middle Eastern ports in violation of UN sanctions.
    More than $25 million worth of charcoal is delivered each year by truck to Kismayo and the al-Shabab-controlled port of Barawe for export to the United Arab Emirates and other Middle Eastern ports in violation of UN sanctions.
    VOA News
    Al-Shabab militants, who control portions of southern Somalia, have long relied on charcoal exports to Gulf Arab states to fund their operations and pay their recruits. Now, following the al-Shabab attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in September that killed at least 67 people, there is renewed urgency at shutting down the charcoal pipeline. U.N. officials who are pushing the effort have so far had little success in curbing the trade but the recent seizure of a ship carrying charcoal to Dubai may change that. 
     
    Convincing Middle Eastern ports to prevent Somalia charcoal imports has been difficult. On any given day, as many as 22 dhows and two steel-hulled ships dock at Kismayo, Somalia’s major southern port on the Indian Ocean, to deliver sugar and concrete while laborers load bags of charcoal bound for thriving Middle Eastern markets where prices are three and four times the local Somali market.
     
    In an important test of U.N. efforts to tighten sanctions among Middle Eastern governments, the United Arab Emirates seized the boat, crew and cargo of M/V Energy 3, which docked at Port Rashid with 140,000 sacks of charcoal in August. U.N. officials and others working to curb the trade say more port seizures such as this could discourage investors and limit the trade.
     
    Despite the continued trafficking, the U.N. Special Representative to Somalia, Nicholas Kay, told VOA that in his talks with officials from the United Arab Emirates he believes “they have an earnest commitment.” Kay also said President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia is “resolute in ending charcoal exports.”
     
    “If they stop profits, the trade will die out,” Kay said.
     
    “UAE needs to make the sanctions a higher priority,” said Ken Menkhaus, a Somali scholar at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. He said the terrorist attack by al-Shabab terrorists on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi “should give them an incentive.”
     
    Trade continues despite setbacks to al-Shabab
     
    Al-Shabab forces have suffered major losses recently such as control of the southern port of Kismayo where much of Somalia’s charcoal was being shipped to Middle Eastern markets. However, according to a recent 486-page Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea report to the U.N. Security Council, al-Shabab charcoal revenues of $25 million in 2011 have increased due to increasing exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two largest of many Middle Eastern consumers of the illicit charcoal.
     
    Kenya Defense Forces prepare to occupy Kismayo in October, 2012 to enforce charcoal ban. One year later, exports increased to more than $25 million.Kenya Defense Forces prepare to occupy Kismayo in October, 2012 to enforce charcoal ban. One year later, exports increased to more than $25 million.
    x
    Kenya Defense Forces prepare to occupy Kismayo in October, 2012 to enforce charcoal ban. One year later, exports increased to more than $25 million.
    Kenya Defense Forces prepare to occupy Kismayo in October, 2012 to enforce charcoal ban. One year later, exports increased to more than $25 million.
    Despite losing Kismayo, al-Shabab continues to profit from charcoal exports in two ways. They continue to control rural central and southern portions of Somalia and at will set up checkpoints to tax truckloads of charcoal bound for Kismayo. The U.N. report estimates that one checkpoint south of the port netted the terrorists $675,000 and $1.5 million in taxes in a recent month. They also remain in control of Barawe, a smaller port north of Kismayo which is filled with dhows and offshore vessels loading charcoal for the Middle East.
     
    In a country with little electrical power, charcoal is the predominant domestic cooking fuel and is now managed by a network of more than 30 local brokers and a variety of armed groups who vie for regional control of production.
     
    The U.N. Monitoring Group cited many armed groups identified as “spoilers” – including members of parliament, clan-based paramilitaries, Mogadishu warlords and the international peacekeepers of the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) – who benefit from the export of Somalia’s charcoal to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Republics and other Gulf states in nationwide sales now reaching approximately $384 million.
     
    “The acacia is highly valued and has made fortunes for warlords, Shabab and the KDF in Kismayo,” said Menkhaus. “Everyone has got an interest in charcoal,” said Menkhaus. “It’s just business.”
     
    The overseas market continues to thrive due to the popularity of meats grilled in Middle Eastern homes and restaurants using charcoal with the aroma and long-burning qualities of the dense wood of acacia forests growing between the Shabelle and Juba rivers in southern Somalia.
     
    The harvest of Somalia’s remaining acacia forests is performed by local Somalis – those who have not been driven from their lands by violence – who cut the trees and dig holes in the savannahs to burn the branches under intense heat and sell the products to regional brokers.
     
    “They have no other livelihood,” said Menkhaus.
     
    Environmental devastation adds to woes
     
    Somalia’s once-vast acacia forests now cover only nine percent of the nation and the ambitious reforestation campaigns of the previous administrations of Siad Barre and Gen. Mohammad Farah Aided are history.
     
    The harvest is denuding the savannah and making portions of southern Somalia unsuitable for human habitation by accelerating soil erosion, reducing the arability of the land, depriving cattle and goats of shade in the savannah’s intense heat, reducing foliage for grazing camels, and killing tree root systems once capable of retaining moisture in the soil.
     
    “It’s a wasteland of stumps from a Lorax movie,” said Menkhaus, who recently walked through the reduced acacia forests. The return of Somalia’s acacias can only occur if this country’s civil war ends, and that’s not likely to happen soon.

    You May Like

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.