Somalia is showing tentative but encouraging signs of emerging from its status as the world's archetypal "failed state". It's got a new constitution, a new parliament, a newly elected president, and the government has gained control of the capital, Mogadishu. The recent dislodging of al-Shabaab terrorists from the key port city of Kismayo marked another hopeful milestone in Somalia's road back from the abyss.
But there are deadly obstacles still in the way. Journalists and media workers are still being targeted. The beloved poet, musician and radio actor Warsame Shire Awale was just killed in Mogadishu. And the dilemma faced by Somali leaders in their efforts to put Kismayo back to work underline the frustrating complexities of getting the country back on its feet.
In February, when the Islamist al-Shabaab fighters controlling the port were using the charcoal trade to finance their insurgency, the UN security council slapped an embargo on charcoal exports from Somalia. And while the embargo wasn't universally honoured, it helped squeeze al-Shabaab's money flows.
Last month, African Union troops drove al-Shabaab out of Kismayo. As a result, tens of millions of dollars worth of charcoal were left in sacks stacked in mountains all around the port. Now that the insurgents are gone, local business leaders are asking for the embargo to be lifted so that they can sell that huge backlog of charcoal and get the port back in operation. As long as the embargo remains in place, they say, the economy will be stalled, creating unrest and setting the stage for al-Shabaab to return.
Not so fast ...
That seems a reasonable enough request. But over the weekend, Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud issued a statement restating his opposition to resuming the charcoal trade. Why?
Well, for one, it's illegal, not only under the UN embargo, but under Somali law as well. But more to the point, as correspondent Peter Greste writes for Al Jazeera, there's no easy way to make sure that al-Shabaab doesn't benefit. While al-Shabaab forces were pushed out of Kismayo, no one is under the illusion that they're completely gone. And many of the connections they used to profit from the charcoal trade while they controlled the port are still intact. In fact, there's evidence that the insurgents are already shipping charcoal from a smaller town they still control further up the coast. Add in the fact that reopening the trade leads to contentious questions about which traders and clans will control it – ie traders and clans that did business with al-Shabaab – and the whole business gets very tricky.
There are political implications, too. The current stasis in Kismayo can't continue. President Mohamud needs to establish control of the port if the central government is to have any credibility in the southern part of the country. Currently, Kenyan troops are administering the city, and they're already showing signs of having different priorities than the Mogadishu government.
Oh, and did we mention that stripping the forests to make trees into charcoal is an environmental disaster?
And so it goes
As with just about anything in Somalia, what to do about Kismayo and the charcoal trade is a tangled knot of high-stake clan, religious, financial and political threads. How President Mohamud's government deals with this conundrum may be key to whether it can really get Somalia up and functioning as a real country once again.
Read more: The Avaaz Daily Briefing looks at some of the opportunities and challenges facing the government in Mogadishu.
Sources: Avaaz, Guardian, Sabahi Online, Security Council Report, Global Post, Al Jazeera, Somali Report