Since David Cameron’s claim in February 2012, that “Somalia is a failed state that directly threatens british interests”, other European and U.S officials and businessmen have joined in to condemn Somalia and advise Somali’s on how to make their country ‘prosperous’ again.
With advice apparently comes expertise; at the moment it is in the form of foreign corporations who are winning contracts to explore, extract and process Somali natural resources. Foreign corporations are also winning the contracts to provide security for these activities.
This article will explore how Somalia is entering its supposed “transition” to a non ‘failed state’, that doesn’t ‘directly threaten British interests’.
British Prime Minister David Cameron leads a breakfast meeting with representatives of Somalia and the United Nations at 10 Downing Street in London, on February 23, 2012,
Our previous article tried to show how an imposed constitution is paving the way for a familiar pattern of resource exploitation in Africa, under the motive of development.
This article will attempt to decipher the murky world of resource exploitation, understanding that many believe Somalia has ‘no choice’ but to enter a game where the players with the biggest pockets set the rules.
Britain, Norway, Italy and the USA are all keen to rush a constitution that enshrines the balkanisation of Somalia while regions are being separately bolstered with million dollar contracts. If the motive is development – it is yet to be seen if the development of Somalia’s education, healthcare and housing infrastructure will be supported with the same fervour and energy seen by foreign businessmen and leaders.
Somalia’s strategic position in the Horn of Africa, with the longest coastline on mainland Africa and view to the oil trail in the indian ocean, means it has had a history of colonial domination. Yet it has never been an easy battle for imperialists.
Britain’s Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, claimed in February 2012 that ‘Britain has no interest in Somalia’s resources’ and the main aim is to encourage accountability and transparency in Somalia’s oil development efforts. British Petroleum was quick to offer a ‘helping hand’ to build and increase Somalia’s oil production capacity.
Shortly after Cameron’s conference in February, William Hague paid an unannounced visit to Somalia, a first in almost two decades! His visit consisted of accompanying oil companies and negotiating in secret meetings, for Britain, the first step to helping Somalia ‘develop’ is to talk to the people holding the keys to the mines and wells.
Somali ex-president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, centre, receives diplomatic credentials from Matt Baugh, with William Hague.
Somali ex-Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohammed Ali claimed that Somalia is in-between a rock and a hard place, explaining that ‘our government had little choice but to entice western companies to Somalia by offering a slice of the country’s natural resources, which include oil, gas and large reserves of uranium’. Abdiwelli neglected to comment on how Somalia got there in the first place.
Oil was first extracted in Somalia by the British who were helped by Italy. Exploration by foreign agencies has not ceased throughout the decades, while the Somali people have heroically and tragically faced civil war, famine and drought. Wikileaks uncovered communication from US under secretary of state Jendayi Frazer, pushing for Ethiopia to invade somalia in 2006, despite the fact that Ethiopia had ‘no intention’ to do so. 20,000 Somalis were killed and over 2 million were made homeless as a result of this war.
Yet still the main agenda is resource extraction. As it was in the 1980s when 12 International oil companies sought and obtained exploration rights in Somalia. Conoco, Phillips/Agip, Shell, (all based in britain,) Arco, Amoco, Chevron, (US based) and the Italian multinational ENI. During the same period the US and Italy increased their military assistance to Somalia.
In 1982, for example, equipment sales and gifts amounted to US$14.3 million; on July 24 of that year, the United States responded to an Ethiopian attack on Somalia by providing antitank weapons, radars, air defense guns, small arms, and ammunition. In 1983 United States military aid totaled US$21.2 million; in 1984 US$24.3 million; in 1985 US$80 million, a large amount of which included air-transportable 155mm M-198s; in 1986 US$40 million; and in 1987 approximately US$37.1 million.
Another development which has arisen from Somalia’s oil prospects is the tactical reconstruction of the land’s infrastructure. Whilst on the surface this may look like development, there is much to be said when looking deeper.
The interest of construction companies such as SKA Air and Logistics, a Dubai-based British company which is a “supplier of fuel, aviation services and logistics… operating throughout the Middle East and Africa.”, and “specialises in moving fuel, people and equipment safely in challenging environments”. In other words, if there’s an occupation, civil war or indeed western bombs dropping, for a price, SKA will make sure the oil and the cash moves freely.
British imperialists have often argued that building India’s train network was for India’s development. However without it Britain faced a logistical nightmare, how else could they ensure the swift transportation of Asian goods? SKA have bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kurdistan and ironically, their slogan happens to be ‘’Doing difficult jobs in difficult places’’. SKA’s rebuilding of Mogadishu’s international airport, is crucial for visits like those of WIlliam Hague and his businessmen.
As expected, the workings of SKA have proven to be even more sinister than they appear, Somali lawmaker Ali Afgoye spoke out against SKA to accuse them of embezzlement, pocketing large sums of money illegally, and engaging in shady dealings with government personnel. SKA fails to hire Somali workers, relying primarily on external employees, doing nothing to aid the high levels of unemployment in Somalia.
So, for a price, SKA will also engage in corruption and pay off a transitional government, which is already receiving funding from the UN. This gave SKA CEO Mike Douglas, the confidence to pat himself on the back, while celebrating “Well, we have signed what we call “a private partnership plan” this is an agreement for the next ten years to manage the operations in the airport. We split the revenue from the services we provide in the airport with TFG. We are putting money back into the economy. We invested a lot of money and we did make money in Somalia”. It is unclear what economy Mike is referring to.
Potential in Somalia’s offshore regions is as huge as inland potential and is comparable to Kuwait which has more than 100bn barrels of proven reserves. Somalia is potentially the 7th oil-rich nation in the world, and developing countries are also trying to lay their hands on these riches, with China’s state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation having tried to acquire an interest in the reserves. American companies Amoco, Conoco, Philips and Chevron were present in Somalia until Siad Barre was overthrown. Conoco started their exploration in 1952 and kept their office in the capital for several years after the overthrowing. This office later became the American Embassy under Bush Sr!
An abandoned Conoco oil well site in Somalia (photo by Jim Shanor)
Another long-present nation in the ceaseless exploitation of Somalia, Norway is the world’s seventh largest oil exporting nation. Playing a pivotal role in the attempts to renegotiate Somalia’s sea boundaries in order to create a setup whereby they can drill for oil freely, they have used the UN as a tool to achieve their greedy goals with the (now defunct) TFG by coercing the then Somali interim president Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmed, backed by the former UN envoy to Somalia Ahmad Ould Abdullah to sign a bid to instigate the boundary changes.
It remains unclear as to how Norway managed to convince Abdullah and Ahmed to provide their signatures and agree to the bid; however sources within the Somali and Kenyan governments say that possibly millions of dollars were paid to secure the dodgy deal. A Somali minister who declined to be named, revealed that Norway had previously attempted to exploit successful oil discoveries throughout the north-east in Puntland, to the south in the Barawe and Jubba regions, but were prevented by “western countries that had more influence” despite the then-president, Siad Barre’s agreement to the plan.
Norway’s involvement doesn’t stop there- they are said to be the driving force behind Kenya’s continuing military invasion in the southern Jubba regions by using individuals in the Kenyan cabinet to persuade the Somali government to support their hopes of creating a buffer zone in order to facilitate the creation of an administration, thus aiding their attempts to loot the resources of the area.
Kenya, (which has 46 oil exploration blocks) have laid claim over offshore oil blocks which are actually Somali and have gone so far as to give exploration rights away, awarding 4 blocks that are in the contested waters; blocks L21, L23 & L24 to Italy’s ENI and block 122 to France’s Total, designating a further eight new exploration blocks with four in Lamu on the Kenya-Somalia border, attracting interest from Brazil’s Petrobras, Britain’s Tullow Oil Plc and Norway’s Statoil.
Tullow Oil exploration rig in Kenya
Shell Oil’s subsidiary Pecten Somalia holds an exploration license for a block in the Indian Ocean. Shell, along with BP, recently unveiled an initiative to support ‘job-creation’ projects in the coastal regions. Total Fina Elf has operated in the port of Berbera throughout the civil war having signed an exploration deal with the TNG in early 2001. Other companies currently operating in Somali regions include Australia’s Red Emperor, Range Resources and Jacka Resources, Canada’s Africa Oil (Horn Petroleum), London-based Ophir Energy, (reports say Ophir’s deal entitles them to pocket 75% of profits and their United Arab Emirates-based partner company Ras Al Khaimah Gas Company, 22.5%, leaving an appallingly low 2.5% for the country), British Asante Oil and British Petroleum.
Oil exploitation has had devastating effects on vulnerable nations worldwide, with Nigeria’s Niger Delta (home to 31 million people) a prime example of the ruins inflicted by imperialist powers. Nigeria’s reserves are 37.2bn barrels yet the levels of environmental degradation, poor health care facilities, inadequate housing and transportation, infertile soil and pollution, lack of clean, safe water and poor education and unemployment is startling proof that despite being the 6th largest exporter of oil internationally, the profits are simply not reaching the people. Oil spillages here and ravaged the agriculture, with an astonishing 15 million barrels reported to have been spilled owing to lack of safe practices by the companies operating there, such as Shell, who are alleged to have spilled 4.5 million gallons in 2009 alone.
Workers subcontracted by Shell Oil Company clean up an oil spill from an abandoned Shell Petroleum Development Company well, in Oloibiri Town, Bayelsa, Nigeria. Wellhead 14 was closed in 1977 but has been leaking for years, and in June of 2004 it finally released an oil spill of over 20,000 barrels of crude oil.
So it seems Hands off Somalia is keen to expose the ambitions of imperialists in Somalia, because there is plenty of debate amongst Somalis who believe this transition only has one direction. So what answers do we have?
For a group of people living in Imperialist Britain, our role is not to “advise” the Somali people. Our job is to expose the oppressor in this relationship, the British government and its corporations, to reveal their aim which is to under-develop and enslave weaker nations for their natural resources, land and labour power.
We are not opposed to development for Somalia. Conversely, we demand development as a human right. If people in Britain want to show solidarity with people in Somalia, and bring about development, the first thing they should do is hold the ‘democratic’ British government to account for their actions so far, so that a fair deal can be obtained by Somalia and Britain can no longer live off the backs of African people and their resources.
Massive banner held to block the BBC entrance by HOS supporters, during a protest against their recent bias documentary against Somalia. (Photo by Aimee Valinski)
The premise of our argument is that Britain is an imperialist power and so has to be opposed. It is clear that a strong, unified, Somali state would be an end to this exploitative relationship and is a threat to imperialism.
We must expose all the dirty tricks played by Britain, EU, US and the UN so that Somalia can stand up freely with solidarity from our people, not suffer from the actions of our corrupt and violent government.
Thankfully – there are nations who are are answering these very questions for themselves.
Venezuela, the 5th largest oil exporter in the world, with proven reserves among the top ten internationally, have a nationalised system and president Hugo Chavez’s economic policies have led to huge rises in social spending resulting in reduced poverty and reduced unemployment (levels are below 10%; the lowest in over a decade).
Venezuela’s state-owned petroleum company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) must spend 10% of its annual investment budget on social policies. In 2007, the PDVSA spent $14.4bn on programmes including medical clinics providing free health care, discount food and household item centres in poorer neighbourhoods, job-creation programmes outside of the oil industry and university and education programmes.
Venezuela’s oil benefits not only Venezuelans; 100,000 barrels of oil are sold to Cuba at discounted rates of as much as 40%. In exchange, thousands of Venezuelans travel to Cuba for medical treatment and Cuban doctors help to administer health care programmes for low-income Venezuelans.
By Naz and Nimo for Hands off Somalia