6 November 2012

Kenya: Lawmaker Urges Somalia to Lift Charcoal Ban

Photo: Guy Oliver/IRIN
A charcoal-producing settlement (file photo).

The son of prominent North Eastern legislator is in an Inter Governmental Authority on Development delegation that at the weekend travelled to Mogadishu, Somalia to urge the newly elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to change his mind on the ban on charcoal export.

The delegation that included Igad executive secretary Mahboub Maalim, a representative from Ethiopia and the son of a Kenyan minister in an Igad technical committee dealing with the Jubaland process travelled to Mogadishu in an attempt to arm twist President Mohamud into not supporting the UN ban.

Last month President Mohamud announced his country backed the UN move.

The delegation is expected to use information gathered by a technical team that travelled to Kismayu on a fact-finding mission on Friday.

The outcome of the Igad delegation's meeting with President Mohamud is yet to be known. The Somalia government last month disagreed with the African Union on whether four million bags of charcoal stockpiled in Kismayu should be exported despite a UN Security Council export ban.

On Thursday, October 25, Amisom petitioned the AU on behalf of Kismayu businessmen. An AU meeting in Addis Ababa attended by representatives from the Troop Contributing Countries and donors resolved that the Somalia government should petition the UN to lift the ban.

On October 10, Amisom, the Somalia National Army, the Ras Kamboni Brigade and 170 businessmen met in Kismayu to discuss what to do with the charcoal valued at $23.5 million (Sh2 billion).

The Kismayu meeting requested Amisom to petition UN to lift on charcoal exports for six months to clear the stock. Amisom had originally argued that the charcoal should be burned as the trade had been linked to al Shabaab. Amisom also wanted assurance that more charcoal would not be produced and passed off as old stock.

UN special representative to Somalia Augustine Mahiga tabled the matter for discussion in Addis. "Although not on the agenda, the brewing crisis over the ban on sale and trade in charcoal in the Kismayu area was brought to the floor by ambassador Mahiga of the UNPOS. The deliberation recognized the potential danger the ban posed to the relations between Amisom and the citizens of the area and therefore urged for the immediate lifting of the ban. It was, however, recommended that the formal request to the UNSC requesting for the lifting of the ban should originate from the President of the Republic of Somalia," stated the minutes of the meeting.

Diplomats said the council was divided on the issue of the charcoal sales, with some countries fearing that the Kismayu merchants lobbying for the sale of the charcoal might still have connections with al Shabaab.

However, the next day President Mohamud insisted in a press statement that Somalia will abide by UN Security Council ban on charcoal exports imposed in February.

"The Somalia government is committed to complying with the UN Security Council Resolution 2036 and calls for the upholding of the ban and stands ready to continue to assist the people of Kismayu. We area taking full responsibility to mobilise humanitarian assistance and the government is in the process of sending a ship of aid from the federal government to the people of Kismayu," said presidential spokesman Suldan Farahseed.

He said the government wanted Kismayu harbour and airport to be solely open for humanitarian assistance. "Therefore, the charcoal at the port will be stored for the time being so the government can come up with the best course of action to deal with it," he said.

Kenya has troops in Kismayu but has made it clear it would not like to appear like an occupying force. Diplomats said the Security Council might find it difficult to allow charcoal exports from Somalia at the moment.

"Those who would benefit from the charcoal may still be funding al Shabaab," a diplomat said. Council diplomats said that the United States was among the countries that would agree to the export of the charcoal if the Somalia government approved.

But the Somalia government has yet to back the idea, the envoys said.

"Negotiations are ongoing and we're closely consulting the Somalis and other regional partners," another diplomat said.

The council banned the sale abroad of Somalia charcoal in February in an attempt to cut off al Shabaab's funding. According to the Security Council's Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, an independent panel that reports on compliance with UN sanctions, charcoal exports from southern Somalia in 2011 generated over $25 million for al Shabaab.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council last week gave Amisom a seven-day extension as it contemplates AU's request to review the 20-year-old arms embargo on the war torn country.

The Security Council is divided on AU's request to begin allowing the sale of arms to the Somali government and is also split on calls to permit the export of stockpiles of charcoal which had been al Shabaab main source of funds.

The Security Council voted unanimously to extend the UN mandate of Amisom which was due to expire at the end of Wednesday, until November 7 as it prepares a resolution that would extend the mandate for a full year.

The AU has appealed to the council to review its arms embargo on Somalia to help the country rebuild its army and consolidate recent military gains against al Qaeda linked al Shabaab.

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