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

    Syrian Torture Victim Recounts Horrors

    'You make them think you have surrendered' says Jalal Nofal, a doctor who was jailed and survived repeated interrogations in Syria

    Mandela’s Millions Paid to Heirs, But Who Gets His Country Home?

    Saga around $3 million estate of country's first democratic president is far from over as Winnie Mandela’s fight for home overshadows payouts

    Guess Which Beach is 'Best in the US'?

    Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay tops an annual "top 10" list compiled by a coastal scientist, also known as Doctor Beach

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora