Black Market

How the Charcoal Trade Fuels al Shabab

AMISOM soldiers patrol near stockpiles of charcoal close to the Kismayo sea port, February 27, 2013. Feisal Omar / Courtesy Reuters

To take out al Shabab, one need look no further than charcoal. The United Nations has repeatedly called for countries in the region to disrupt the group’s trade in this environmentally destructive product, but, as the most recent Somalia UN Monitoring Group report revealed, such efforts have been lackluster. And so, with its patience wearing thin, the UN has now taken matters into its own hands by approving a naval intervention.

The trade in Somali charcoal is immense, amounting to at least $250 million per year, a third of which, according to UN estimates, lines al Shabab’s pockets. Most of the charcoal goes to buyers in the Gulf region, a dhow trip away from Somalia across the Arabian Sea. It circulates within the Gulf countries’ free trade zone and might then be distributed to markets in the Arabian Peninsula and further afield. In these markets, demand for Somali charcoal

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