Monday, August 08, 2022

The "Green" Jihadists?

 As energy prices rise Somalis are turning to affordable sources, charcoal, driving unsustainable logging.

The situation is acute in the Lower Shabelle region’s Wanlaweyn district, the centre of the charcoal trade, about 55 miles (90km) north-west of the capital. Lower Shabelle is one of many parts of the country that is largely out of the control of the Somali government, and there are no structured, government-driven efforts to restrict logging.

“The levels of deforestation have gotten so severe that most of the trees along the banks of the Shabelle River have been cleared out,” says Abdilatif Hussein Omar, the executive director of Action for Environment, a conservation organisation that operates in the Horn of Africa.

In the south of the country, the lives of many pastoralists and farmers have been disrupted by extreme weather, so they have been looking for other ways to earn money.

Hussein says the environmental damage has caused a vicious cycle. “It rains less because people are cutting down more trees to meet the demand for charcoal, which means crops are not able to grow, which affects farmers and livestock who depend on the land for survival,” he says.

The jihadist group al-Shabaab, which exercises control in some regions, has been trying to grow its influence in recent years by playing a quasi-governmental role on issues such as environmental protection. In 2018, it imposed a ban on single-use plastic bags and is enforcing crackdowns on the cutting down of leafy trees. The Islamist group brutally enforces its policies.

“Some of the loggers have received threatening calls from al-Shabaab, while others have been physically harmed,” says Guled Warsame, a logger. Despite the dangers and environmental harm, Warsame says he needs the work. “Al-Shabaab has ordered us to stop cutting dry trees but we can’t. It’s our only way to make money.”

Dahir Abdalla, a lorry driver, says he was recently detained by al-Shabaab for a few days when transporting dry wood, but was eventually released. He believes that the group may be in the process of initiating a crackdown on logging and transportation of wood from dry trees, but says that, for now, the only clear ban is on the cutting and transporting of wood from leafy trees.

“We only pick up dry tree wood in our lorry and never leafy wood because al-Shabaab doesn’t allow that. If they catch us transporting trees that still have leaves, they will set our vehicle on fire,” he says.

Despite the crackdown, reports show that revenue from the trade is an important income stream for al-Shabaab, with a 2014 estimate suggesting that the group earned an annual total between £6.5m and £14.5m from imposing charges on charcoal traders at one road block alone.

Amina Mohamed and Saynab Hersi say they face double taxation – from the government when the lorries travel through major cities and districts, and from al-Shabaab when travelling through the countryside.

Even so, dealers say they make enough to keep them in the trade. Yasmin Salad, who has been in the business for eight years, says she makes a profit of 1.8m Somali shillings (£2,600) for every 510 bags of charcoal, which she sells at 11,700 shillings each, over a six-month period.

Inside Somalia’s vicious cycle of deforestation for charcoal | Global development | The Guardian

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