Al-Shabaab is shipping large quantities of charcoal from a port in Somalia controlled by the Kenya Defence Forces, United Nations monitors say in a report released Wednesday.
Revenues collected by Al-Shabaab from the export of charcoal, in violation of a UN ban, have increased in two years since the Kenyan army took control of the Somali port of Kismayu.
According to the UN Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group, more than a million bags of charcoal are being shipped from Kismayu each month. The findings are based on information from local sources as well as analysis of satellite imagery.
The report estimates charcoal worth at least $250 million (Sh22 billion) was shipped to the international market from Somalia in 2013 and 2014. The total “could be much more, given that the Monitoring Group may not have identified all shipments,” the report cautions.
“Al-Shabaab continues to benefit from the revenue generated, 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,” the UN monitors state.
Al-Shabaab decided last January to route most of its charcoal supplies through Kismayu, the report notes.
“Currently, an estimated average of 20 trucks, each carrying approximately 5 to 12 tons of charcoal, arrives at the port of Kismayu on a daily basis,” the monitors say.
Operations at the port of Kismayu are jointly supervised by the KDF and the Ras Kamboni militia, a local force affiliated with the regional Interim Jubba Administration (IJA).
The UN Monitoring Group says that according to some of its sources, “the shareholding of Kismayu port is divided 33 per cent each for Al-Shabaab, the IJA and the KDF.”
Other sources have indicated that “the shareholding is divided 40 per cent for Al-Shabaab and the IJA each, and 20 per cent for the KDF.”
Revenue used for attacks
The UN banned charcoal exports from Somalia in February 2012 in an effort to reduce funding for Al-Shabaab.
But in part through its ability to reap profits in KDF-controlled territory, the militant group retains resources sufficient to carry out major attacks, such as the September 2013 slaughter at the Westgate Mall.
Proceeds from the illicit sale of charcoal are shipped mainly to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait. It observes that charcoal revenues have “helped to finance the purchase of military vehicles by Ras Kamboni."
Kenyan authorities have sought to obstruct the Monitoring Group's work, the report charges. “The government of Kenya prevented one of the group’s experts from remaining at his duty station in Nairobi,” the monitors say.
The consequent need to relocate the UN official —Babatunde Taiwo, an expert on armed groups — “significantly interfered with the group’s investigations, especially with regard to Al-Shabaab, at a critical juncture in Somalia,” the report states.