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

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora