By STANDARD REPORTER and AGENCIES
Kenya’s alleged role in facilitating Kismayu’s illegal charcoal exports has been blamed for recent fighting between militia groups in the port city.
This even as it was claimed Al-Shabaab will make more money from charcoal exports this year than they made while in control of Kismayu.
The allegations arise from a confidential annual report on Somalia by United Nations monitors completed before the clashes erupted.
In that fighting, rival militias battled for control of the strategic port city for three days after Ahmed Mohamed Islam (Ahmed Madobe), leader of the Ras Kamboni militia and a former Islamist warlord, became leader of the Jubaland region, which includes Kismayu, in May. The situation remains tense though the Mogadishu government, which initially opposed Madobe, is letting him stay on as interim leader.
Kismayu is a lucrative prize for clan leaders, bringing with it generous revenues from charcoal exports, port taxes and levies on arms and other illegal imports.
The charcoal business generates millions of dollars a year for Islamic militants seeking to topple Somalia’s government. UN monitors say Al Shabaab is expected to rake in significantly more than the $25 million (Sh2.2 billion) it got for about ten million sacks exported in 2011.
The Al-Qaeda linked group has been fighting for control of Somalia for years and enforces a strict version of sharia law in the areas it occupies. This puts Kenya’s role in facilitating the trade into sharp focus.
“At the rate of export since November 2012, the Monitoring Group estimates … 24 million sacks per year (are being exported),” the monitors say, adding that Al Shabaab is getting a significant slice of this Sh34 billion trade.
The UN Security Council banned the export of charcoal from Somalia in February last year to cut off one of the main sources of income for Al Shabaab. The case of the failed ban on Somali charcoal outlined in the report highlights the difficulty of cutting off Al Shabaab funding and ensuring compliance with UN sanctions when there is little appetite for enforcing them.
The Kenyan military denied the allegations in the UN Monitoring Group’s latest annual report to the Security Council’s sanctions committee on Somalia and Eritrea.
Kenyan forces in the African Union’s peacekeeping mission, Amisom, which has a UN Security Council mandate and receives funding from the European Union and United States, helped the Somali government retake control of Kismayu when the Al Qaeda-aligned militants fled in September last year.
Afterwards, the AU almost immediately urged the Security Council to lift the charcoal export ban, at least temporarily. Kenya supported the idea, arguing that Kismayu’s angry charcoal traders could undermine the security of its troops. The Monitoring Group, which reports on compliance with the Somalia/Eritrea sanctions regime, disputed Nairobi’s analysis.
“The argument that a group of charcoal traders constituted a greater threat to the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) than Al Shabaab that had just been routed in Kismayu, was difficult to appreciate,” the group said in an annex to its annual report, which was seen by Reuters.
“Instead, it was far more likely that exporting charcoal would exacerbate clan tensions and resource interests, leading to much broader conditions of conflict,” the group said in its report, which is nearly 500 pages with all its annexes. “And this is precisely what subsequently occurred.”
The Monitoring Group’s report is likely to elicit new criticism of Nairobi from Somalia’s government, which has accused Kenyan troops of taking sides against it in the recent clashes in Kismayu and suggested they should be replaced by a more neutral force. Kenya denied the charge.
The group said Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud asked Amisom in October last year to keep Kismayu port closed to commercial traffic, including charcoal.
But it said he was unaware that former Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas had already asked the Security Council’s sanctions committee to review the ban. The group said an Amisom commander lied to the president.
“As late as October 26, 2012, the Amisom Deputy Force Commander for Operations and Plans, Maj Gen Simon Karanja (KDF), assured the President that the port was closed and there was no shipping traffic, while he knew otherwise,” the Monitoring Group said.
The Kenyans did not hide the fact that they wanted to ease the charcoal ban because they feared it could make their job of keeping the peace in Kismayu difficult. When it became clear that the Security Council would not lift the charcoal export ban, the “KDF, Madobe and his Ras Kamboni forces took the unilateral decision to begin the export of charcoal”.
KDF spokesman Col Cyrus Oguna, said Kenya was not aiding the charcoal exports in any way.
“The KDF is not at the sea port. The port is being managed and supervised by a committee put in place by the administrators of Jubaland,” Oguna said in Nairobi. Amisom did not respond to a request for comment.
Although the Kenyan Amisom contingent and Madobe’s Ras Kamboni militia control Kismayu, the UN monitors said Al Shabaab retained a share of the charcoal business after it lost control of the city.
“The nature of the business enterprise forged by Al Shabaab continues,“ the Monitoring Group said. “Essentially, with the changeover of power in Kismayu, the shareholding of the charcoal trade at the port was divided into three between Al Shabaab, Ras Kamboni and Somali Kenyan businessmen cooperating with the KDF.”
Not only did charcoal exports continue, in spite of the UN Security Council ban, but they saw a dramatic increase, the report said.
“In fact, Al Shabaab’s shareholding in Kismayu charcoal, in combination with export revenues at Barawe town and taxation of trucks transporting charcoal from production areas under its control are likely exceeding the revenue it generated when it controlled Kismayu,” it said.
The UN monitoring group said it estimated charcoal exports from Kismayu alone were worth $15 million to $16 million per month. It noted that traders in Dubai say the actual export amount is probably much higher.
They said charcoal exports from Barawe, the Al Shabaab-controlled town north of Kismayu, bringing the militants $1.2 million to $2 million per month in taxes.