Somalia is a new El Dorado. The African country offers enormous business opportunities without even stepping on its lands tortured by indiscriminate attacks, guerrilla attacks and selective assassinations using drones. The economic and political future seems linked to the oil that underlies its ocean waters. From August 4 to March 21, 2021, offers can be submitted for the exploitation of seven areas presumably rich in oil and gas.
The first intention of the federal government was to auction fifteen blocks of about 20,000 square kilometers for the exploitation of resources, but the authority reduced the lots by half due to the unfavorable situation of this industry, which has reduced investment in prospecting due to the reduction of demand and falling fuel prices. The African Republic is rich in raw materials, but faces serious structural and economic problems. In any case, the estimates speak of reserves close to 30,000 million barrels.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo was interrupted when reading the specifications of this initiative at the Claridge Hotel in London. The incident took place in March 2019, when the leader presented the project to interested companies. Then, a protester broke into the conference room denouncing that the extractive industry would only benefit a predatory elite. He was not without reason.
According to the ‘Risk & Compliance’ portal, which provides country risk reports, Somalia is considered the most corrupt country in the world and its new business partners should take into account that the judicial system does not work, the police are ineffective and the armed forces are robbed of media in its own bosom. The firms established in the country resort to private security, promoted by paramilitary groups, to protect themselves in this climate of absolute uncertainty.
Future oil revenues may evaporate in the Somali tropics. The law of the jungle dominates in the national economy with a weak Administration where the Public contracting is done privately, public funds are often diverted, and the market is controlled by an oligarchy associated with power.r. Furthermore, the lack of effective government control allows the various militias to apply their own taxation and benefit from systematic bribery.
The crude is intended to replace goats and sheep. Somalia is the main supplier of livestock to the Arabian peninsula, but this year, the pandemic has prevented the pilgrimage to Mecca, the destination of many of the cattle. And prices have plummeted. Today, a camel can be bought in Mogadishu for 400 euros, half its normal value. Covid-19 joins other misfortunes. The country is suffering a severe cut in income, exacerbated by the cycle of droughts and floods generated by climate change and the locust plague that has ravaged East Africa. Today 69% of the Somali population survives in conditions of utter misery.
The government seeks new forms of financing to escape this context of recession and foreign dependence. International aid and remittances from the diaspora have been key to the economic recovery, although doubts about the proper use of funds led to the creation of a Financial Governance Committee aimed at assuaging investors’ doubts. In addition to opening a new bid, the Somali leaders have reached an agreement with Exxon Mobil and Shell to give them another five exploration blocks and, in this way, recover the concession granted in 1990, before the collapse of the State.
But the biggest problem is that there is no single Somalia. The state collapsed in 1991 when the dictator Siad Barre tried to establish an authoritarian regime contested by clans and sub-clans, ancient sources of power. Washington, Brussels and Ankara, its main supporters, support its division into five regional entities with broad autonomy and fickle loyalty to the central government.
The established order hinders changes. Tribal communities maintain their authority and have prevented the constitution of a modern state. This situation has given rise to a kind of Taifa kingdom in which Al Shabaab thrives, the Islamist guerrilla, the holder of a large part of the rural areas.. Although it has lost control of the big cities, the radical organization has entered the economic structure with mafia practices linked to extortion. In addition, in this complex political mosaic plays a different game Somaliland, a portion located to the northwest and converted into a de facto independent republic.
The effective democratization of the country has been the instrument used to permanently regain lost stability. But the challenge is enormous in this environment plagued by deprivation and endemic violence. The government and regional entities agreed to hold parliamentary elections for this month and presidential elections next February, but the dire health situation and the imponderables to guarantee universal suffrage have led to the postponement of both appointments to February and August 2021, respectively.
Reality, as in other Somali facets, poisons good intentions. It is not realistic that in such a short time the vote can be guaranteed without being blown up or the ballot being manipulated. The most favorable forecast indicates that, as happened on the previous occasion, the clans elect elder electors and these, in turn, select the delegates that will make up the college where the parliamentarians will be appointed. Naturally, all these phases are susceptible to being conveniently modified through pressure and bribery.
From its almost uninterrupted 3,300 kilometers of coastal sand, Somalia looks to the horizon, towards that ocean where pirates raided tankers, foreign fishing boats depleted tuna banks with impunity and the Calabrian mafia sank ships with toxic waste. There are no certainties, only hopes of redemption and renewed fears because oil and gas, so flammable, They can provide means to restore their lost state or light new fires in a land full of seams.
Crisis in Jubaland, the land of plenty
Everything is liable to get worse in Somalia and, a few days ago, the government expelled the Kenyan ambassador, its neighbor and ally. This surprising diplomatic incident arose from the alleged interference of Nairobi in the Federal State of Jubaland, jewel in the crown of the regime. Border disputes cloud their cooperation to extremes close to conflict. Both are fighting over 100,000 square kilometers of riparian waters allegedly abundant in oil, that manna that the two countries crave.
The ‘off shore’ business is not the only reason for divergence. Economic interests make Jubaland, in the extreme south, a prey to both. Also known as Azania, the land of plenty, it is one of the most fertile regions and its port of Kismayo is considered one of the strategic centers of traffic with Arabia and Iran.
Kenya’s interests are economic and strategic. Nine years ago, his army launched Operation ‘Linda Nchi’ aimed at pushing the Al Shabaab militia away from its borders and from the port of Lamu, vital to its commercial expansion. Since then, the troops remain in Jubaland, although, formally, integrated into the Mission of the African Union (Amisom). The jihadists responded to this offensive with their revenge at the Westgate Mall.
Kenya has established a kind of protectorate over the State, turned into a ‘buffer zone’ or buffer zone to waterproof it from the attacks of the radicals. Ahmed Madowe, the president of Jubaland, is his ally and he has asked Mogadishu to withdraw its troops, a sign of his growing hostility towards the federal government.
Charcoal trafficking is another of the great local resources. Al Shabaab controls this market, banned by the UN due to its enormous environmental impact. According to sources from this organization, 8.2 million trees were sacrificed for this flow that ends in the Persian Gulf.
From his rural fiefdom, Jubaland fights any attempt to stabilize the area. In July of last year, the radicals exploded a car bomb in the hotel where the recently suspended elections were being prepared. Among the 26 fatalities was Hodan Nalayeh, a Somali-Canadian journalist and social activist, one of the figures behind this project of a modern, free and peaceful country, perhaps feasible, perhaps an entelechy.