Abdirashid M. Dahir
Saturday July 8, 2017
Chinese delegation visited Somalia’s northeastern state of Puntland in March, 2015 in quest for close partnership as giant Chinese firms could be exploring new opportunities in Africa, and to be precise in East Africa more particularly. The Chinese officials discussed -- expanding China’s infrastructure footprint, barely a year before then Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud presided over the grand opening of China-revamped Bossaso international airport -- with the President of semi-autonomous Puntland region, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali.
The President of Puntland who is bent on leaving a mark on the region’s infrastructure asked for China to construct Garowe-Eyl Road,Galkayo airport and Garacad sea port, the latter being a strategic Indian Ocean village which back in 2012 became notoriously popular with piracy scourge. According to friendswith whom I have conversed over the course of thedraft, the Chinese delegates and Puntland raised the looming prospect of forging partnership in offshore explorations.
Though, China is believed to be keen on a stake in the vast hydrocarbon harbored in the waters off the coast of Somalia, the Somali officials have been too reluctant about disclosing China’s rekindled interest in hydrocarbon ventures for years hamstrung by disputes between the federal government in Mogadishu and federal member states.
Garacad Seaport Project
Chinese engineers conducted a pre-feasibility for anew seaport project in the coastal village of Garacadbetween January and March this year. Somali business leaders are said to have bankrolled Garacad seaport blueprint, merely something murky, and as of now independent of Chinese investment clout.
Puntland dubbed the port project ‘Central Somalia Economic Growth Corridor’ to turn economic tide, with natural resources at its disposal. Conceived by the government, the project is aimed at tarmacking 269km road, construction of quay and crane facilities equipped with standard and bonded warehouses, cooling and freezing facilities as well as container yard at Garacad and improvement of Galkayo airport with 3km paved road.
If constructed, Garacad port will provide neighboring Ethiopia, which laments about congested services at Djibouti port, with an additional gateway.
On his return from a visit to Ethiopia on March 22, Puntland President Dr. Ali announced that there are plans to construct Garowe-Eyl road and Galkayo airport. The President’s remarks may have sounded tacit acknowledgement of China’s fresh charm offensive to keep plugging at Somalia’s thirst for infrastructure.
Eyl Port Corridor Project
The feasibility study and the detailed engineering design of the would-be paved road between Dangorayo and Eyl were carried out in 2016 with financing provided by the Somali Relief Network of North America (SRNNA) under the auspices of Puntland Highway Authority (PHA), a viable entity in charge of urban and rural roads in Puntland.
The government officially laid foundation stone for the road on August 19, 2016 in the presence of respected elders and local community representatives. Clearance operations started off afterwards, and 80km alignment expected to be upgraded to national standard road with 7m dual carriageway was connected to the existing 40km gravel road of Eyl coastal town. Puntland Government touted Eyl road project a ‘flagship one’ which will benefit tourism, thanks to the pristine beach and historic sites in Eyl, fisheries sector, livestock exports, and overall Somalia’s booming construction industry.
For instance, Locals in Eyl coastal town derive the most major part of their livelihood from fishing, and Eyl was a home to 705 fishing fleet that comprises canoes, sail boats and motor boats, seasonal and full time fishermen estimated to be 1330 (UNDP Report, 2005) and nearly 20 refrigerator trucks.
Fishermen in Eyl and a string of Indian Ocean villages used to export lobster tails and shark fins to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kenya, meaning a new paved road will greatly enhance rapid access to renovated airports in Garowe and Bossaso, thus reducing cost for road users and artisan fishers engaged in lobster fishing during peak seasons (October to March).
Moreover, many believe, once a road linking Eyl into the trunk road network is completed, Puntland will be able to revive dry fish meat exports to potential and long-lost international markets such as France, Italy, Saudi Arabia and East African markets in Tanzania.
What is China looking for?
China officially re-opened its embassy in Mogadishu in August, 2014. It has been lending a helping hand to Somalia ever since. The pledge amounting USD 10 million in aid earlier last month once more demonstrated China’s evolving role in an era of reconstruction which was more recently overshadowed by the devastating drought nationwide.
On March 30, Puntland cabinet passed deal with China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC). It is yet unclear how the federal government in Mogadishu would react to the agreement signed between Puntland and CCECC, though discomfort at federal level has been swirling around since then.
CCECC’s business scope mainly covers civil engineering design and consultancy. It is also popular in neighboring Ethiopia where it won contracts for the construction of Miesso to Djibouti port section of transnational electric-powered railway connecting Ethiopia to Djibouti and Dire Dawa Dry Port Project. Thus far, CCECC is not the company that would carry out minerals survey and oil exploration as the government seeks to map Somalia’s quantity and distribution of mineral resources, indeed much to the brewing public chagrin over China’s interest in the country’s mining and hydrocarbon industries.
Moreover, it remains to be seen whether China’s new role will turn into a source of friction or leapfrog the long-awaited infrastructures including Garowe-Eyl Road, Galkayo Airport and possibly Garacad Port.
Dr. Gaas – whose short stint as the head of ‘National Salvation Cabinet’ between 2011 and 2012 earned him a praise -- wants to oversee the completion of a string of ambitious schemes to transform Puntland’s infrastructure not least -- Bossaso Port Renovation and Galkayo-Garowe Road Rehabilitation Project; however he is expected to address the vexed yet likely pricier China question.
Abdirashid M. Dahir is a writer. Follow him on twitter @abdirashidmd. He can be reached at [email protected]