Illegal Somali charcoal shipments continue By Peter Greste (AlJazeera)

06 Nov 2012 (Will the world listen to this cry – despite the US-American election circus?)

Vessels depart from Kismayo port under watch of Kenyan peacekeepers serving under AMISOM, despite a UN ban on these exports. Kenyan troops and fighters from Ras Kamboni seized Kismayo from al-Shabaab early in September.

African Union peacekeepers [N.B.: actually they are not “peacekeepers” having no UN peacekeeping mandate, but a mandate as a protection force for the Somali government] who control one of Somalia’s most strategically important ports have allowed ships carrying charcoal to leave, violating a UN Security Council ban, a presidential order and Somalia’s own laws.

Local witnesses and security sources said at least three freighters and 10 dhows departed from Kismayo on Monday, most carrying charcoal, under the watch of Kenyan soldiers who are serving with the peacekeeping force AMISOM.

The Kenyan troops and fighters from Ras Kamboni – a local militia – seized Kismayo from al-Shabaab fighters early in September.

Al-Shabaab profited from the charcoal trade that environmentalists say has done enormous damage to the fragile ecosystem.

In February this year the Security Council banned the trade to stop both the flow of money to al-Shabab and slow the environmental damage.

Local businessmen who smuggled charcoal out of Kismayo while it was under al-Shabaab’s control, have continued to build the stockpile, now said to be at least four million bags worth an estimated $20m.

Since the rebels left, the businessmen say there is no need to keep the ban in place and have lobbied hard to have it lifted.

But President Hassan Sheikh ordered the port to remain closed to all commercial shipping until the delicate question of who should control the port is resolved, and agreement is reached over what should happen to the charcoal.

Charcoal exports are also illegal under a 1969 statute.

Fierce row

An Amisom spokesman did not deny that charcoal exports had taken place despite the bans and presidential order, but he said the peacekeeper’s mandate “does not extend to stopping the charcoal trade”.

The fate of the charcoal has become the focus of a fierce row with the traders, the Kenyan military and a group if neighbouring states called IGAD who all advocate lifting the ban, and the fledgling government which is opposed to it.

Security sources say Al Shabaab can still export charcoal from Baraawe port further to the north, so any lifting of the ban would help them as well as local businesses.

Environmentalists argue that it would also encourage continued burning of the region’s already decimated forests.

But most importantly, according to a source close to Sheikh, without a transparent port administration in place, it would create an alternative center of power and wealth that would undermine his still fledgling administration.

In an attempt to resolve the crisis, Hassan Sheikh appointed a nine-member taskforce to investigate the charcoal stockpile and report with recommendations within seven days.

But as the taskforce and a group of journalists were about to board a UN flight at the start of a three-day mission, officials said the trip had been cancelled due to “security concerns”.

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OPED

STOP THE DEADLY EXPORT OF CHARCOAL FROM SOMALIA

At the moment the Iranian vessel ARZU is loaded with illegal charcoal inside Kismayu harbour and under the watchful eyes of the Kenyan KDF troops and those charcoal traders, whom they let into the sealed off and protected zone  under their command. The often cross-flagged vessel ARZU is destined for Ajman in the UAE, which would make the United Arab Emirates a co-conspirator, if it would allow the ship with contraband from Somalia into their waters.

Observers are wondering where the navies are. Especially the US-led Task Forces 150/151 group has a specific mandate and order to stop any smuggling (e.g. human or drug trafficking, arms smuggling and transport of any contraband) and to control the sanctions under which Somalia as well as the Iran were placed. All the other navies, who claim to sail under UN mandate along the Somali shores and in Somali waters also should at least enforce the UN embargo.

These are the charges under which the present actions in Kismayu must be investigated and judged:

– Violation of the UN embargo by AU forces and traders
– Violation of Somali Government charcoal export ban by the present Kismayu governance under Ahmed Madobe. The renewed decree concerning the export ban makes it clear that there can be no exemption from the general ban of any charcoal export as stipulated by valid Somali Law already and in general.
– Violation of the Somali decree stipulating that Kismayu is at present NOT a port of call for any foreign vessel coming to Somalia. The Somali Government had made it already clear that any foreign vessel, which wants to sail to Kismayo has to report to Mogadishu first.
– Violation of international sanctions against Iran (by cross-flagged Iranian vessels working as blockade breakers)
– Proactive support of breaking the embargoes and criminal smuggling of contraband from Somalia.

In the Xeer, the traditional law of Somalia, those forest people, who left their homes to collect forest products, used to apply the rules of combatants at war. In fact their rules were meant to create strong solidarity amongst the group and they applied these rules whenever they left their settlements for collecting products in the forest. Is that what the new “administrators” of Kismayu are afraid of? And are the al-Shabaab groups trying to use now these “forest-combatants” against foreign troops, who apparently now must appear to them to have “stolen” their lucrative contraband trade?

But with Somalia evolving into an independent state, modern environmental and land-rights laws already replaced the self-governed legal framework for those ravaging groups and a stronger sense of communal stewardship for the rangelands and forests of a clan or sub-clan evolved.

Alas and already under the Siyad Barre government, powerful forces – in those days from the Socialist Party, which garnered income from the charcoal trade of their unionists – tried to circumvent the general charcoal export ban provided for by Somali Law. In those days the biggest threat came from Saudi Arabia, which wanted to import gigantic masses of Somali charcoal in attempts to use it plowed under the soil to revive large stretches of sandy desert. But all Somali governments resisted against this megalomaniac nonsense, though large amounts of money had been offered. If those Somali leaders hadn’t stood strong Somalia already today would be completely denuded and a total desert like we find it in the Rub al Kali of Saudi Arabia just across the Gulf.

The “social” argument is by the way as old as independent Somalia: “We will stop making charcoal, if you give us other income generating jobs!” was the Mantra of those involved already in the 60’s, who just wanted to continue in the lucrative theft of the trees from communal rangelands.

Interestingly it was the BBC, who first started to shed crocodile tears with the “poor charcoal traders”. But this is no wonder, given the fact that the British have a long history of leading local people to their own demise. The almost total deforestation of the northern Somali rangelands of high-value pencil cedars during the colonial times and with the “help” of British sawmills is only one example.

The same “poor-man’s” argument is also often used in Kenya, where all charcoal making – except from specifically grown trees on private wood-lots – is meanwhile strictly forbidden. But also there the menace and illegal trade continue with vast stretches of Acacia woodlands having disappeared already. Interestingly the price of charcoal in Lamu, Malindi and Mombasa has risen over the recent weeks from 300-400 KSh per large bag (approx. < $6 US) to 600-800 KSh (approx. < $10 US) and local observers state that powerful Kenyan brokers are gearing up to revive the charcoal import from Somalia again.

None of the Somali or foreign businessmen, who get rich by robbing the natural heritage of Somalia, has ever engaged or invested in tree-growing and none of them has been harvesting what they have sown. All engage in the continuous desertification of Somalia. If they had engaged in tree-farming in the 60’s when the “social argument” was invented – all the present “poor charcoal makers” in the bush of Southern Somalia would have proper income today on tree-farms producing the black gold. But under the disguise of “civil strife” and war it is easier to rob instead of properly produce in a sustainable way.

It is clear: The illegal charcoal-makers and their masters, who invested to buy and trade the contraband, know the law and knew the risk they face if their illegal activity would be stopped. The charcoal mountains amassed at the ports and outlets of Southern Somalia therefore must be confiscated and should be distributed free of charge to the needy in the IDP camps across Southern Somalia.

Any charcoal export from Somalia must be stopped once and for all.

All those, who break the laws and sanctions, including AU troops, and all those who utter death-threats against the defenders of the natural heritage of Somalia or incite the charcoal makers to resort to violence against the rule of law and the new Somali government must be severely punished, if Somalia is ever to escape from vicious cycle of illegal business and oppression of local communities.

The vast majority of Somalis does not want to live in a denuded Somalia, bare any trees and with destroyed ecosystems and water regimes. These are the forces, who have to be mobilized first to stand up against those who destroy their natural heritage and the future of their children. And the international community must help by e.g. assisting with large re-afforestation projects, but at least by NOT allowing their own forces to become accomplices in ecocide.

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ECOTERRA Intl.
SURVIVAL & FREEDOM for PEOPLE & NATURE

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About somesha

Somali Media for Environment, Science Health and Agriculture (SOMESHA)
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