What you need to know:
- According to a shocking report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, profits from the charcoal trade (which has been banned by the United Nations) are shared by the Kenyan forces, the interim Jubba Administration headed by Madobe, and Al-Shabaab.
- The UN report estimates that charcoal worth at least $250 million has been shipped from Kismayu since the Kenyan forces took over the port in 2012 and that more than a million bags of charcoal are shipped from the port every month.
For more than two decades, the port of Kismayu in Somalia has been a lucrative source of illicit money for the country’s warlords, Islamist factions and terrorists.
It is widely believed that drug trafficking networks and smugglers have been using this port to import narcotics and goods such as sugar into Kenya.
Anyone who has sought to control Somalia and its unregulated economy has sought to have authority over this prized port.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the capture of this port from Al-Shabaab was a key goal of the Kenyan forces that invaded southern Somalia three years ago.
However, recent reports indicate that instead of putting a stop to the illegal goings-on at the port, the Kenyan forces and their comrades-in-arms, the Ras Kamboni militia (whose leader, Ahmed Madobe, once had links with Al-Shabaab), continue to profit from the illegal export and import of banned or smuggled goods from the port and may have even co-opted Al-Shabaab into this nefarious trade.
It may sound like an incredibly hard-to-believe story, but in the jigsaw puzzle that is Somali politics, where alliances are forged and broken with alarming frequency, it is not too difficult to imagine that the Kenyan and Ras Kamboni forces, who now occupy the port of Kismayu, would have entered into a commercial deal with the terrorist organisation.
CHARCOAL TRADE PROFITS
According to a shocking report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, profits from the charcoal trade (which has been banned by the United Nations) are shared by the Kenyan forces, the interim Jubba Administration headed by Madobe, and Al-Shabaab.
The report by the UN monitors states: “Al-Shabaab continues to benefit from the revenue generated (from charcoal) on a scale greater than when it controlled Kismayu, at charcoal production sites, from checkpoints along trucking routes, and from exports, in particular at Kismayu and Barawe, all of which to date have been uninterrupted by the military offensive against the group.”
What this means is that, instead of shutting down the charcoal supply chain used by Al-Shabaab to fund its terrorism activities, the Kenyan troops may have, in fact, made it easier for the group to profit from the illicit trade, which is also causing severe environmental damage in Somalia’s most fertile region.
The UN report estimates that charcoal worth at least $250 million has been shipped from Kismayu since the Kenyan forces took over the port in 2012 and that more than a million bags of charcoal are shipped from the port every month.
Satellite images and local sources indicate that an average of 20 trucks carrying charcoal arrive at the port daily and that between June 2013 and May 2014 about 160 ships (an estimated 60 per cent of which are believed to be under Indian ownership) left the ports of Kismayu and Barawe carrying charcoal for export to Oman, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.
A LOT TO ANSWER
If these allegations are indeed true, then the government of Kenya has a lot to answer to the government of Somalia and the international community, in particular the United Nations and the European Union, the main funders of the Kenyan forces in Somalia (rehatted as Amisom).
If Kenyan forces are complicit in funding Al-Shabaab, and profiting from the illegal charcoal trade, they should be penalised and banned from operating in the region.
Sceptics claim that the Kenyan “occupation” of the Jubaland region in southern Somalia is part of a wider scheme by Kenyans to gain a foothold in this Ogaden-dominated region.
Interestingly, minority clans and marginalised ethnic groups who reside in the region, and who have been largely excluded from political and economic power in Somalia, feel that Kenyan interventions in Somalia have ignored the fact that non-Somali ethnic groups, including the so-called Bantu and Bajuni, form a sizeable proportion of the region’s population.
A group representing Somali Bantus told me recently that many smallholder Bantu and Bajuni farmers were being systematically killed or discriminated against and that failure to address the “Bantu question” could lead to further conflict and instability in southern Somalia.