THE Kenyan commander in Somalia has requested the United Nations to lift an export ban for four million bags charcoal discovered in Kismayu.
Brigadier Anthony Ngere, the Amisom Sector II commander, wrote the letter to the UN which banned charcoal exports in February 2012.
The UN Security Council imposed the ban on charcoal exports from southern Somalia over fears were funding al Shabaab.
A huge backlog has built up since the ban was imposed and high walls of charcoal now line the road to Kismayu port. Somali businessmen asked Amisom to help them get permission to export the charcoal stockpile.
In late September the KDF and Ras Komboni militia took control of Kismayu, a city with 200,000 population. The UN is said to be reluctant to lift the export ban on the charcoal exports because its origin is unclear. The UN is said to be concerned that the revenue from the charcoal sales could still leak back to al Shabaab.
"Brig Ngere is a Kenyan officer who is in Somalia on Amisom duties. He must have been inspired by the situation on the ground. He did not write the letter on behalf of KDF. KDF is not in anyway involved in Kismayu. Brigadier Ngere was influenced by the fact that charcoal is the main source of income for residents of Kismayu and there are stockpiles that have been there since Al Shabaab were in control," KDF information officer Colonel Cyrus Oguna told the Star.
"Charcoal exports from Somalia are a significant revenue source for Al-Shabaab and also exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. All member states shall take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect import of charcoal from Somalia," said UN Resolution 2036 in February.
Charcoal from Somalia was exported to Dubai and the Gulf through ports controlled by the al Shabaab, especially the southern ports of Kismayu and Merka.
It earned about $15 million or about 20 per cent of Somalia's annual revenues according to the UN report. However at Ksh500 per bag, the four million bags discovered in Kismayu could be worth a lot more, Sh2 billion or US$23.5 million.
UN Deputy Special Representative in Somalia Wafula Wamunyinyi yesterday said that a committee of officials from the Somalia government, the business community in Kismayu, and Amisom has been established to look into the charcoal stockpiles in Kismayu.
"There is a lot of stockpiles of charcoal piling up in Kismayu and the Somalia government and Amisom are looking into it. A committee has been formed. Someone could have requested the export but it has not been decided. It is Somali traders who are involved in charcoal export and there are about 4 million bags in Kismayu. The Somalia government administration in Kismayu who will address the charcoal issue," Wamunyinyi said.
Amisom spokesperson Eloi Yao yesterday said that Amisom had not sought to lift the export ban. "It is not within Amisom's mandate to ask for the lifting of the charcoal export ban. Amisom cannot lift a ban put in place by the UN," he said.
On Monday Saudi Arabia announced that it would comply with the UN ban on charcoal exports from Somalia. In July, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia said that charcoal exports from Kismayu and Merka earned al Shabaab millions of dollars despite the UN ban.
The report accused the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia of failing to uphold the ban. The report said that charcoal was al Shabaab's most lucrative source of income.
Charcoal exports from southern Somalia in 2011 increased to between nine and 10 million sacks, generating revenues for al Shabaab in excess of $25m (Sh2.1 bn) the investigators found.