Finally. Action against al-Shabaab’s exploitation of the lucrative Somali charcoal trade is long overdue. Al-Shabaab exacts a 2½ percent tax at several stages of production from the point the charcoal leaves the kilns until it is loaded and shipped illegally to Persian Gulf buyers in contravention of a UN ban on the trade.
…“The al Shabaab-controlled charcoal trade is emerging as the new security threat facing the country’s biodiversity,” Henry Wafula, a district commissioner in eastern Kenya, said in an interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Charcoal worth more than 140 million Kenya shillings (about $1.7 million) is being shipped out of eastern Kenya illegally every month, Wafula said. The lucrative trade involves cutting down and burning mature trees, particularly in protected wildlife areas. The loss of trees reduces cover for wildlife and worsens soil erosion.
In 2013, the annual report of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia estimated that al Shabaab’s charcoal exports from eastern Africa could be as high as 24 million sacks per year, for an overall international market value of $360 to $384 million.
Laws passed by Kenya in 2013 impose tough punishments on illegal logging and related activities, but concern about al Shabaab’s possible use of charcoal trade revenue has drawn INTERPOL, the world’s largest international police organisation, into an alliance trying to stop the trade, though there is scant evidence it is used for terror-related operations.
“We have reports linking illegal charcoal trade in Eastern Africa to terrorist activities in the region. But this is not something governments are responding to,” David Higgins, of INTERPOL’s environmental crime programme, told a recent media briefing in Nairobi.
He did not give details of the activities, but said he has information, mainly from non-governmental organisations, that there are links between the charcoal trade and terror cells operating in the region.
INTERPOL began taking an interest in the charcoal trade soon after Kenya passed the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013, which spells out penalties up to life imprisonment for anyone found guilty of logging, clearing land or setting fire to vegetation in protected wildlife areas…