When Kenyan forces invaded neighboring Somalia to battle Islamist insurgents two years ago, they found more than just members of the Al-Shabab terror network. On the outskirts of the port city of Kismayo, they discovered mountains of charcoal destined for the prospering Arab Gulf emirates. “Black gold” was not the only export commodity that then-Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki’s troops found when they invaded Somalia. There were ample signs of the ecological devastation wrought by Al-Shabab, ranging from sea cucumbers used in medical preparations and cosmetics produced in China and other Southeast Asian countries to elephant tusks intended for the manufacture of sacred ornaments and decorative pieces of art for the middle-class residents of the emirates.
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It is charcoal, however, that graphically symbolizes the blood-drenched violence that costs the lives of African men, women and children, such as those who were murdered in the terrorist attack in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi a week-and-a-half ago. The violence not only affects millions of Africans; a major report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-sponsored group of scientists, has determined that all residents of the planet are indirectly affected by the violence in Africa. A 36-page summary of the report was released last Friday.
The findings of the panel should also disturb Africa’s Muslims, several of whose lives were spared by the armed Islamist terrorists in Nairobi, who claimed that they were protecting the interests of all Muslims.
The border area between Somalia and Kenya is a tropical savannah, in whose dense forests Al-Shabab’s warriors began to operate. Thanks to the absence of inspectors and law enforcement agents, Al-Shabab was able to cut down acacia trees in order to produce charcoal, which they packed in huge 25-kilogram sacks for shipment to eastern destinations. The UN, which has forbidden Somalia to export coal, estimated in a recently-published report by UN inspectors that one million 25-kg. sacks of charcoal are smuggled out of Kismayo monthly. That means that some 10.5 million trees have been cut down and destroyed by Al-Shabab in the past two years alone.
The terrorist organization makes a “clean” profit out of this deal, and that profit is estimated at more than $15 million annually. For the rest of the world, the operation is a colossal loss. In addition to the damage done to the breeding grounds of thousands of species of animals – many of which are in danger of becoming extinct – the cutting down and burning of these trees produces the emission of carbon dioxide that is the principal cause of global warming. Moreover, the use of charcoal in the countries to which it is exported creates additional environmental pollution. There is a notable increase in temperatures in the arid parts of Somalia and the increase contributes significantly to the drought and famine from which this country chronically suffers. The major crop that flourishes in this scorched earth is despair. In such a disastrous situation, medical care, comfort and a small livelihood are available only in organizations such as Al-Shabab.
The terrorist attack in its capital found Kenya in the midst of a campaign against elephant and rhinoceros hunting on its territory. The campaign is being led by Margaret Kenyatta, wife of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta; she herself lost a number of relatives in the attack on the shopping mall. The residents of Kenya, which is considered to be a relatively stable country on the conflict-torn African continent, now realize that the war on the terrorism perpetrated on the natural resources of Kenya and its neighbors is the same war being waged on the terrorism against Kenya’s citizens. When the war on terrorism against Kenyans ends, it will again be safe to wander through the streets of Nairobi; however, all-around the city will be utter devastation.
This message must also be understood by those who have not been directly affected by the conflict in Africa; those who reside in countries whose citizens were not among the dead and wounded in the terror attack on the shopping mall. It is important to ensure that this message continues to resonate in the future, when Somalia again becomes a country representing the ills of Africa and Kenya again becomes a favorite tourist destination.
The reason is that this terrorism spreads destruction every day of the year and is directed against all of the inhabitants of the Planet Earth, especially their children and grandchildren, who will grow up in a world where terrorism is a part of daily life and where forests filled with elephants, rhinoceroses and lions exist only in fairy tales.
The authors are consultants to the Kenya Wildlife Service