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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More