Thursday, November 15, 2012
By Majid Ahmed
Sacks of charcoal are piled high on the side of the road as an African Union Mission in Somalia convoy makes its way through Kismayo on October 2nd. [Stuart Price/AFP]
Enforcing the ban on charcoal exports from the Somali port of Kismayo continues to be a source of dispute between regional authorities and federal officials who disagree over how to manage the surplus left in the city after al-Shabaab was ousted.
Following al-Shabaab's forced departure from the city in September, the interim administration of Kismayo began allowing local merchants to export charcoal from the port.
"When we arrived at Kismayo, we were surprised to find thousands of tons of charcoal," said Abdinasir Serar, spokesman for the Ras Kamboni militia, which is sharing control of the city with the Somali federal government. "We immediately received requests from several Kismayo merchants and local residents to lift the embargo placed on charcoal exports … to avoid incurring huge losses for merchants and businessmen."
"After discussing this issue, we became aware that continuing the ban imposed on coal exports would result in huge losses, estimated in the millions of dollars for local merchants," he told Sabahi, estimating that 85% of city residents rely on the charcoal trade for income.
Serar said allowing the export of charcoal is the most appropriate solution because of the huge charcoal supplies in the city. "We conveyed this to the Somali government, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development, the African Union and the United Nations," he said.
However, the Somali government opposed the idea and insisted on adhering to the ban on charcoal exports, which it said was a key source of revenue for al-Shabaab.
In February, the UN Security Council passed a resolution banning UN members from importing Somali charcoal, saying its trade threatens the peace, security and stability of Somalia. Subsequently, the Somali Transitional Federal Government implemented a law banning the export of charcoal in April.
Determination to enforce ban
Despite the UN resolution, charcoal from Somalia still flowed into the markets of Gulf countries while al-Shabaab controlled the city, according to a June statement from the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.
After al-Shabaab was ousted from the port city in September, exports dwindled but never stopped, which the African Union Mission in Somalia said this month it "regrets", vowing to uphold the ban.
Abdullahi Mohamed, a former law professor at the Somali National University, called on all parties to adhere to the UN Security Council resolution.
"No one, whether it is the regional administration in Kismayo or any other side, has the right to export charcoal from Kismayo because that is a flagrant violation of the UN Security Council resolution," he said.
The Somali government affirmed its commitment to stopping charcoal exports through the port of Kismayo in a statement released October 27th, expressing concern regarding any group that tries to violate the UN Security Council resolution.
A delegation of Somali government and security officials from Mogadishu arrived in Kismayo on November 7th to determine the quantity of charcoal there and investigate the charcoal trade. However, the city's interim administration refused to receive the nine officials in the city, forcing them to return to Kismayo Airport.
"What happened was a misunderstanding on the part of the government as we were not informed that they would be sending an official delegation to Kismayo and they also did not consult with us about the formation of the team they were sending," Serar said. "For this reason, we made the decision not to receive that delegation."
Banning charcoal exports from Kismayo may help al-Shabaab
Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, leader of Ras Kamboni militia, said he supports a temporary lift of the ban on charcoal exports from Kismayo.
He said failure to address the issue might anger the business community and push them to support al-Shabaab. "If we do not respond to the demands of local merchants regarding lifting the ban on charcoal in Kismayo, it is possible they could resort to using other ports that are not under our control such as the al-Shabaab-controlled port of Barawe," Madobe told Sabahi.
"If merchants turn to the port of Barawe to export charcoal, it is likely that al-Shabaab will benefit from this, providing them with revenues through which they could re-group and re-gain military influence in the south of the country," he said.