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The Destructive Scramble for Crude Oil in Somalia

by Ali H. Abdulla
Tuesday, September 04, 2007


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Mr. Adan Yabarow in his article “The dangerous smell of crude oil that may ignite a new civil war in Somalia” raises many disturbing questions that need to be pondered, studied and analyzed. The best recommendation I like in his long list of recommendations is the one he calls for “All activities concerning oil law and exploration rights has to be halted”.


The current situation in Somali is not conducive to oil exploration and the only companies that are ready to operate in such an unstable environment are risk takers whose terms can only be disadvantageous to the Somali people. In high risk investments, investors normally demand high rewards. The higher the risk, the higher the rate of return demanded for the risk premium. In Somalia, the risk premium is very high indeed and the best Somalia can hope to get from any deals negotiated under the current circumstances would only benefit the few individuals in power and subject the country to untold suffering and environmental degradation at a scale not seen before.


If you are a fan of Hollywood thrillers like me, you may have watched the movie shooters in which an Ethiopian archbishop is assassinated in order to prevent him from talking about Americans committing genocide to build an oil pipeline in a remote Ethiopian village. Although the assassination of the Archbishop is secondary in the plot, it does remind one of the greed of oil companies that would stop at nothing to achieve their goals. The greed of oil companies coupled with the shortsightedness of misguided local politicians can be very detrimental to the Somali people.


If you have been following events in the South of Somalia, there are reports by some news agencies that talk about intercepted communication in which Special Forces are told not to leave behind any survivors during the campaign against the ICU members. We still do not know what these forces were covering up, but we should expect more of the same in the future when it comes to oil in Somalia. We may lose entire villages in the process of oil exploration. We can take queue from the recent events in Majayahan, a small village in Eastern Sanaag, where a small Australian mining company started excavating without the prior knowledge and consent of the villagers. Many died in the skirmishes that resulted from the confrontation. Imagine what a well-equipped army would be capable of doing when it comes to big-time oil and the need to pacify entire villages in the interest of the flow of oil.


The scenes of burning people in Nigeria in their quest for siphoning a few liters of oil from pipelines going through their territories without benefiting them should be a lesson for all of us when it comes to big-time oil.


The environment in Somalia has already suffered irreversible degradation in the form of burning trees for coal and chemical and nuclear dumping. The Iranian hospital in Dubai has recently noticed the high rate of cancer patients coming from Somalia. This may very well be the result of the suspected nuclear waste dumped in the country during the 16 years of anarchy as revealed by the Tsunami that hit the country in 2004.


The most vulnerable people in the exploration for oil in Somalia would be the nomads who eke a living out of a harsh environment with their herds of camels, goats and sheep. Oil spills as the result of irresponsible drilling methods and sabotaged or broken pipelines would wreak havoc on the pastures frequented by these nomads and would end nomadic life in Somalia as we know it today.


While many would argue the benefits of oil exploration in Somalia, we should balance such benefits against the numerous hazards posed by such explorations under the current circumstances.


Oil exploration in Somalia would only benefit the country when the Somali people have fully reconciled; fair and free elections have taken root in all parts of the country; educated Somalis have come back to the country from all corners of the world; the education system has been fully re-established, all government institutions are functioning properly and staffed with competent individuals; the country has a competent Oil Minister like the honorable Ahmed Zaki Yamani who knows how to deal with the titans.


Somali activists should not take this lightly and should start forming green-peace style parties to prevent the exploitation of our country in these tough times.


I finally salute Mr. Yabrow for alerting us to the greed, incompetence, and shortsightedness of the individuals who put their self-interest before the interest of the Somali nation.


Ali H. Abdulla

E-mail: [email protected]

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