Al-Shabaab’s charcoal business booms despite loss of KismayoSeptember 17, 2013
UN says terror group’s annual revenues likely exceed 25 million USD
In what seemed like a major military and financial setback for al-Shabaab, the capture of the important port of Kismayo by Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops, and the Ras Kamboni clan militia in September 2012 has turned out to be mere window dressing for a profit sharing arrangement between militiamen, the Kismayo business establishment, and al-Shabaab itself.
The pre-existing agreements for taxes and royalties to be paid to al-Shabaab at each stage of the lucrative Somali charcoal production and supply chain appear to be intact despite the change in management of the port. Add that to checkpoint taxes imposed on truckloads of Somali coal and expanded charcoal export operations at the beach port of al-Shabaab controlled Barawe, and you have a recipe al-Shabaab success.
In its exhaustive 400+ page report in July, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea lays out al-Shabaab’s unexpected ability to snatch victory from the jaws of seeming defeat:
…Overall, despite the fact that the KDF/AMISOM and Ras Kamboni forces replaced Al-Shabaab’s control of Kismayo, the charcoal business architecture remained intact. While the production and trade in charcoal has always existed in Somalia on a smaller scale, during Al-Shabaab’s control of Kismayo it became a large-scale international enterprise combining local clan and Al-Shabaab financial interests, as previously documented by the Monitoring Group (S/2011/433 and S/2012/544). The nature of the business enterprise forged by Al-Shabaab continues with Al-Shabaab, its commercial partners and networks still central to the trade. Essentially, with the changeover of power in Kismayo, 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.
In addition to Al-Shabaab’s shareholding at Kismayo represented by individual charcoal traders in the local business community, there is seamless movement of charcoal trucks between Kismayo and Barawe and regular coordination between the two ports, not least because of the personal and commercial relations between charcoal traders, individuals in Ras Kamboni and members of Al-Shabaab.
This dramatic increase in scale of the charcoal trade since the time when Al-Shabaab exclusively controlled it, actually benefits Al-Shabaab as it draws considerable revenue from its partial shareholding in the expanded business. In fact, its shareholding in Kismayo charcoal, in combination with its export revenues at Barawe and its taxation of trucks transporting charcoal from production areas under its control are likely exceeding the revenue it generated when it controlled Kismayo, previously estimated by the Monitoring Group to be 25 million USD per year (see annex 9.2). As such, Al-Shabaab has managed to exploit and profit from the diversification of interests in the charcoal trade (see annex 9.2)…
Meanwhile, Persian Gulf countries flagrantly violate the UN’s ban on the Somali charcoal trade by continued importation. If there is any saving grace to the charcoal fiasco, it is that the Monitoring Group believes al-Shabaab cells outside of southern Somalia may not be receiving increased revenue.