In 2008, the Dubai-based shipper Faisal Khan turned his back on trade with Somalia. Mr Khan was making a business decision: if pirates took one of his ships, the ransom could have sunk his company.
Today it is famine that is the more immediate concern for troubled Somalia. But just as Mr Khan decided to pull out because of criminal influences, other businesses have a responsibility to monitor who is profiting from their trade. Under normal circumstances, commercial ties with Somalia would benefit the local economy. But the famine has changed the rules of the game.
The Al Qaeda-linked group Al Shabab generates millions of dollars in revenues from the taxation of goods passing through southern Somalia's ports. And because Al Shabab has blocked food aid at every turn, aggravating a food crisis that has killed an estimated 29,000 children and threatens millions, the Islamist group has become its own people's worst enemy.
As we reported yesterday, more than 400 UAE residents have recommended action, signing an online petition organised by the activist group Avaaz.org calling for a trade embargo in Shabab-controlled areas. Business between traders in the Gulf, primarily in Dubai, provides the militants with millions in tax revenue. Charcoal exports to GCC states via Al Shabab-controlled ports contribute to $15 million annually.
The UN Security Council has already called for an embargo of Al Shabab-connected businesses, threatening travel bans and asset freezes. But the we don't have to wait for the UN; closing commercial links now could significantly weaken the group. "Unilateral action would be a clear political sign the UAE government was serious about an effective course of action to curb the activities of Al Shabab," the British security consultant David Mugridge said yesterday.
Al Shabab is a weaker organisation today than before the crisis began. Militants recently withdrew from the capital Mogadishu. The ability of outside powers to keep up the pressure could save lives.
The UAE has moved quickly to rush food aid and humanitarian supplies to famine-struck Somalis. The further challenge is too see that food aid and other supplies reach the people in need. We know who is blocking that aid. Now it is time to target Al Shabab's resources.