SOMALIA: Kenya Army and Al Shabab alleged carrying out the UN-banned illegal charcoal trade in Somalia
The United Nations through its UN Security Council Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea (SEMG) and the United States through its Government-funded Non-Profit organization Institute of Defence Analyses (IDA), have in the last couple of months issued damning reports, alleging that the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) mission to Somalia under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) appears to include the charcoal trade.
Since the July 2011 Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group’s (SEMG) Report, Al-Shabaab’s fortunes had declined dramatically, ceding much of southern Somalia to the forces of AMISOM, Kenya and Ethiopia, and their local Somali allies.
The loss of so much territory had also deprived Al-Shabaab of some lucrative border taxation points, and a UN Security Council ban on the importation of Somali charcoal threatened to further erode the group’s single most important source of income. Confronted by such pressures, serious rifts emerged within the group’s leadership, threatening to produce a formal rupture, and Al-Shabaab fighters begun to migrate northwards towards Puntland, Somaliland and Yemen. A steady trickle of foreign fighters was reported to be leaving Somalia in what was viewed by analysts as the beginning of the demise of the dreaded Al-Qaida linked terror group.
However, in a twist of events, the two reports cited above strongly implicates Kenya, a participant in AMISOM, which operates in support of the Somali national government, as supporting the trade that provides income to Al-Shabaab, its military opponent both inside Somalia and, increasingly, at home in Kenya. According to the allegations in the reports, there are over 60 shrewd businessmen — located in the Somali port city of Kismayu that is controlled by Kenya’s military arm KDF, and in Garissa and Nairobi in Kenya — who are brokers in this international syndicate of illegal charcoal business.
It is noteworthy that Kenya’s chief military officials and political leaders have previously admitted the possible involvement of KDF in illicit economic activities in Somalia and stated that since October 2011, they have not only engaged in military action aimed at stabilising the war-torn country, but more significantly in other economic adventures.
Interestingly, according to the IDA Report, since the charcoal trade is Al-Shabaab’s primary income-generating activity, it is not an exaggeration to infer that the resources ploughed from the trade is used to carry out terror attacks in Nairobi and in Mombasa and other locations along the Kenyan coast is being generated with the knowledge or even the cooperation of the KDF and Kenyan commercial merchants.
According to a recent report prepared jointly by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and Interpol, Al-Shabaab’s primary source of income appears to be from informal taxation at roadblocks and ports. In one roadblock, the report states, Al-Shabaab has been able to make up to $8 million (Sh696 million) to $18 million (Sh1.5 billion) per year from charcoal traffic in Somalia’s Badhadhe District, whereas trading in charcoal and taxing the ports have generated an estimated annual total of $38 million to $56 million for Al-Shabaab. Earnings from the trade are vital in sustaining the terrorists’ capacity to carry out attacks in Somalia and Kenya.
It is important to note that charcoal smuggling from Somalia and other African countries could be likened to the drug wars in Mexico in terms of violence and amounts of money involved. Although charcoal is the primary cooking fuel in Somalia, it is also highly prized in the Gulf States for its quality. Made largely from the wood of acacia trees, it is slow burning and aromatic, imparting a sweet aroma to the region’s grilled meats.
According to IDA, Somalia’s charcoal exports to the Gulf have long been carried by a fleet of dhows and small freighters plying the route between Kismayu and Barawe in southern Somalia and ports in the Gulf region such as Khasab, Oman, and Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. The ships often arrive in the Somali ports loaded with sugar, which is exchanged for the charcoal.
The debate over the involvement of the KDF in the charcoal business that is controlled by terrorists in Somalia has recently elicited heat in the Kenyan Parliament in Nairobi, with the Opposition Deputy Minority Leader Jakoyo Midiwo lamenting in Parliament that Kenya did not send its boys and girls in uniform in Somalia to collect illicit taxes. He even went further and demanded that KDF personnel be returned home with immediate effect.
Last year, the UN Security Council’s SEMG published a report charging that the illicit trade in charcoal facilitated by Kenyan troops in Somalia was producing significant revenue for the Al-Shabaab. The report alleged that working in cooperation with Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islam “Madobe” and his Ras Kamboni militia, the KDF was alleged to have helped export about one million sacks of charcoal a month.
According to the report, when KDF troops and the Ras Kamboni militia entered the port of Kismayu in southern Somalia on September 28, 2012, they found some four million sacks of charcoal worth at least $60 million (Sh5.3 billion). Comparable stockpiles existed in other Somali ports, including the Al-Shabaab-controlled port of Barawe. Kenya and the AU unsuccessfully petitioned the UN Security Council to temporarily lift the ban to allow a one-time export of the stockpiles. But the report claims that when the Security Council declined, KDF and Ras Kamboni “took the unilateral decision to begin the export of charcoal”.
Due to the foregoing, Fanole Human Rights & Developments Organization (FAHRO) is gravely concerned about this stinging indictment of the Kenyan troops in facilitating the growth of Al-Shabaab’s revenue base through illicit commercial enterprises.
Fanole Human Rights & Developments Organization (FAHRO) call upon the UN Security Council, the African Union Security Council, IGAD and other regional bodies to expeditiously investigate this blatant abuse of international community’s goodwill and Somalia people’s support by the Kenyan troops and take appropriate action against the perpetrators of these criminal activities.
We call upon the Government of Kenya to immediately launch specific and time-bound investigations to establish the veracity of these indictments and if found to be true, take stern action against the officials involved. In the meantime, FAHRO seeks to urge all Somali people to remain calm and support peaceful means of resolving issues as the Somali Government and their international partners pursue lasting peace and security in the country.