One thing that strikes a visitor to Kismayu Port, Somalia, is lack of charcoal on the streets.
The situation has changed since May 2013, when Mr Ahmed Mohammed Islam, popularly known as Sheikh Madoobe, was elected President of Jubaland.
Unlike then, the streets are not lined with the mountains of charcoal that its previous administrators, Al-Shabaab militants, thrived on.
Since then, though, the United Nations Monitoring Group has reported twice that the Kenya Defence Forces and Jubaland government were illegally exporting charcoal and importing sugar.
With the connection between the two and Al-Shabaab, the reports said, KDF and the Jubaland government were effectively giving the group the resources needed to go about its murderous campaign.
UN Monitoring Group reports are usually based on data and contain what researchers have heard — like the reported association of a Senate worker and the terrorists.
JOURNALISTS FOR JUSTICE
The reports form the basis of investigations to establish if what researchers have been told is true.
To these reports was added another last month by Journalists for Justice — a local NGO — saying KDF was heavily involved in the charcoal and sugar trade.
Compiled by Mr Ben Rawlence, a rights activist who has worked in Somalia, with the help of four anonymous researchers in Garissa, Nairobi, Dadaab and Kismayu, the report angered the KDF and Jubaland administration.
“When that report came out, I was in Nairobi,” President Madoobe told the Nation in Kismayu two weeks later.
“I don’t how that came about.”
So then, where did the charcoal go?
Mr Madoobe said Jubaland went by the resolution of the UN Security Council to stop the production and export of charcoal.
“After they stopped the trade, the large mound of charcoal left belonged to 32 businessmen, whose names we have,” President Madoobe said.
That charcoal was taken to the outskirts of the port city.
Mr Abdifatah Mohammed, who lives nearby, told the Nation that the charcoal is bought by residents for domestic use.
SELL REMAINING STOCK
A sack of charcoal goes for $10 (Sh1,000) and Mr Mohammed’s plea was for the trade to resume, or for the businessmen to be allowed to sell the remaining stock.
Brig Daniel Bartonjo, the commander of KDF’s Sector Two, expressed his surprise at the reports. He said KDF only provided security and was not involved in business.
The KDF contingent at the port is the fourth since Kismayu was taken in October 2012. The soldiers have been there since December 23, 2014.
“Whoever raised that issue should provide evidence,” Brig Bartonjo told the Nation.
“They talk of senior military officers. We’d want them to provide evidence so that hard decisions are taken.”
He said he would be the first to resign if it was proved that he took part in the trade.
Brig Bartonjo said claims that 3,000 tonnes of sugar left the port for Kenya every week were ridiculous.
He said KDF soldiers secured the sea port and the international airport at Kismayu while the Jubaland administration managed them.
Lt Anthony Kibet, the officer from the Kenya Navy in charge of maritime operations, said their job there is to board and search vessels for arms and other contraband and to seize those that are bringing in the unwanted.
He has been at the port for a year and said has never seized any ship that was bringing weapons into the port. The Navy also patrols the sea around the port throughout.
The sea port is certainly busy.
When the Nation was there on the weekend of November 21, there were two large ships and two small ones moored and unloading. One had arrived from Dubai with cars, timber stamped ‘Made in Germany’ and the other was stacked high with containers.
The large ships use their inbuilt cranes to unload their massive cargo. The smaller wooden ones are unloaded by the loan mobile one, the goods they being placed in a large net and then swung onto the trucks, where it is arranged by loaders.
There was a constant stream of vehicles leaving, trucks loaded with 50-kilo sacks of rice and boxes of spaghetti that form the staple food of the Somalis.
Petrol and diesel for the hinterland is brought into Kismayu in drums and transported in the same open trucks, with no obvious regard for safety.
Before they leave the port, the drivers leap out and go to a table where men are seated with a book of receipts for the recording of tax. Those receipts are necessary to make it past checkpoints.
There had been a shortage of sugar over the past month, General Mohammed Warsame Darwesh, the Internal Security minister said. Dekha Yusuf, who runs a shop in the town, said it was the first time there had been a shortage.
Abdullahi Dhubat Shill, the port manager, said exports from the port are minimal now- cow hides, sesame and dry lemon.
But the imports are many and the port is thriving.
Mr Shill said they receive an average of three ships per month bringing in rice, sugar, clothing and building materials, a huge increase from the time KDF liberated the town from Al Shabaab.
The port manager said about 300,000 kilograms of sugar are imported in a month.
To guard against leakage of revenue, the government has employed Shafi Hussein, a former resident of Minnesota who has come back home, as a Director of Fraud Protection.
From the port, the sugar finds its way into towns in Jubaland, which stretches from the border with Kenya in the north down to the coast, with Ras Kamboni and Ishakani and Kiunga on either side of the border.
Brig Bartonjo said that with the sugar received at the port entirely in the hands of the Jubaland state and the traders it taxes, there is no way KDF can be involved. “They have the right to take it anywhere in Somalia,” he added.
“When the vehicle crosses the border, that’s where we can arrest it. Not when it is in Somalia,” said the commander.
Although KDF has taken large parts of Southern Somalia from Al Shabaab, it is evident from the continued attacks on Kenyan soil that not the entire region is under their control. It is also difficult to rule out that sugar that entered Somalia from Kismayu is finding its way into Kenya.