Somalia's tenuous peace

Kismayo's natural deep-water harbor is at the heart of the city's economy and is closely guarded. Security issues and a UN embargo on coal sales means the port is less busy than in the past.

KISMAYO, Somalia ― Kismayo’s southern entrance is flanked by pile after vast pile of charcoal, bagged and stacked in towering blocks on either side of the asphalt road.

These stalled shipments now threaten to undermine hopes of a lasting peace in Somalia.

Al Shabaab, Somalia’s Al Qaeda-styled militant organization, withdrew from Kismayo late last month as an international military force moved in. It was the group’s last of a string of retreats that began 14 months ago in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital.

It’s been a dramatic turnaround for Al Shabaab, which just over a year ago had nearly full control of the capital and much of the country’s hinterlands. Since its withdrawal from Mogadishu, the city has experienced something of a revival, at least by Somali standards.

Whether or not Kismayo, a coastal economic center in the country’s south, can do the same is almost entirely dependent on the tens of millions of dollars worth of charcoal laying in wait at its port.