Hit & Run

Al Qaeda-Linked Somali Terrorist Group Bans Plastic Bags

Al-Shabab has declared plastic bags a "a serious threat to the well-being of humans and animals alike."

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STR/REUTERS/Newscom

Somalia's so-called libertarian moment is over, now that Al Shabab—the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist terrorist organization that controls swaths of territory in the southern reaches of the anarchic, East African nation—has declared a prohibition on plastic bags.

News of the ban was first published on the reportedly Shabab-controlled site Somalimemo.net, which aired an audio recording of a Shabab official declaring the bags "a serious threat to the well-being of humans and animals alike."

The New York Times reports that Shabab-linked twitter accounts and radio stations later broadcast news of the ban.

Press reports did not include details of Shabab's enforcement strategy, but if its past behavior is any guide, penalties will be severe. The group already enforces prohibitions on music, movie theaters, and satellite TV, and is known for carrying out public executions of political rivals and homosexuals.

Other East African governments have also taken severe measures to crackdown on plastic bags. Since 2017, the government of Kenya—which is locked in a vicious war with Al-Shabab—has penalized mere possession of plastic bags with up to four years in prison or fines of $40,000.

Rwanda has banned plastic bags since 2008, earning it praise from environmental groups as "Africa's cleanest nation" while its police beat, humiliate, and imprison bag smugglers caught crossing into the country.

It is certainly true that in poorer countries without well-developed waste management systems, plastic pollution poses a significant problem. Loose bags and debris block waterways, pile up in neighborhoods, and wind up in the stomachs of livestock. Most of the plastic getting into the world's oceans comes from poor, populous coastal countries whose litter goes mostly uncollected.

Yet, judging by the thriving black markets for bags that have developed in Rwanda and other nations with bag bans, plenty of people still consider them necessities.

So while East Africa's crop of authoritarian regimes and terrorist organizations are not wrong to worry about plastic's effect on the environment, a more humane solution might be finding ways to improve its waste collection efforts, not hitting the world's poorest people with fines and—often—much worse penalties.