The Great Game in Somalia

The recent upsurge in fighting between the various factions in Somalia is a typical example of wars being fought throughout the African continent where the real benefactor is neither the people nor local governments, but major powers. Somalia is another country that has been caught up in a vicious struggle between great powers competing against each other to control the Horn of Africa.

The reason for this interference in Somalia’s internal affairs is simple. Somalia is replete with abundance of natural resources. Uranium deposits, oil and natural gas can be found in Somalia. Oil seeps were discovered in the colonial era by both British and Italian geologists. Later, French and American oil companies competed with British and Italian oil companies for concession rights to the exploration of oil. In the years to follow Somalia became a battle ground between Europe and America for the right to control Somalia’s oil wealth. Europe led by Britain fought America through supporting local militias and surrogate countries like Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti, while America supported her militiamen through countries like Ethiopia and Sudan. The power struggle between Europe and America contributed to decades of civil war, secessionist movements and break away states.

In the late 80s, under the leadership of Somalia’s pro-U.S. President Mohamed Siad Barre nearly two-thirds of Somalia was allocated to the American oil giants Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips. Siad Barre was inconveniently deposed just as Conoco reportedly hit black gold with nine exploratory wells, confirmed by World Bank geologists at the time. During the coup, US envoy to Somalia, Robert Oakley took refuge at Conco headquarters. The removal of Baree prompted Bush senior to dispatch 20,000 US troops in 1992 to restore US rule and thereby secure valuable oil concessions granted to US oil companies. The military intervention was touted as a humanitarian intervention designed to save the starving Somalian souls from famine. The military action resulted in defeat for the US as she was unable to accomplish her mission and pulled out.

Nonetheless, America made sure that her retreat would not encourage the Europeans to exert control, and a bitter struggle ensued between these powers via their agents in Somalia and the neighbouring countries. These powers did not allow any stable government to form and encouraged a number of secessionist states such as Puntland, Somaliland and Jubaland to cede from Somalia or at least demand greater autonomy.

Despite the civil war, foreign countries were able to oil sign treaties with the transitional Somalia government. Oil companies from France, the UK, the UAE, and China attained exploration rights granted by the Transitional National Government, the Somaliland government, and the Puntland government respectively. TotalFinaElf, which has been operating in the port of Berbera throughout the civil war, signed an exploration deal with the TNG in early 2001 off the Somali coast during which the government would provide security for TotalFinalElf employees. Rovagold of the UK, Dubai-based Zarara, and two Chinese firms signed exploration deals with the Somaliland government. Chinese firms are reportedly conducting exploration activities in Puntland.

It was not until the events of September 11 that America began take a renewed interest in Somalia. This time America used the pretext of fighting terrorism to pursue her oil interests in the country. Somalia, like other energy rich countries features heavily as part of America’s grand plan to control the energy reserves of the world for the next fifty years. However, due to her awful occupation of Iraq, America was unable to give due attention to Somalia until now.

But this time America is supporting both the warlords and the Islamists to manufacture a pretext to invade the country. A top US diplomat in Africa, Jendayi Frazer, acknowledged that the White House would work with those who can help "prevent Somalia becoming a safe haven for terrorists". The statement was in reference to assisting the warlords against the Islamists.

America has been equipping the warlords with weapons. These are the very same warlords who have been accommodated in Yusuf’s government as part of a power sharing agreement. These warlords include those who hold the portfolios of security, trade, religion, disarmament and reconstruction. Furthermore the US has also subverted any attempt to interrupt the supply of weapons to both sides. A United Nations report called for a tighter arms embargo on Somalia but this was rejected by the Security Council. The report stated that an unnamed country had been flouting the weapons ban to help local groups fight the Islamic militants. It said that Ethiopia was supplying weapons to Mr Yusuf’s interim government, while Eritrea was arming the Islamists

The American plan is to fragment the country into regions and then encourage the energy laden areas to cede and fall in line with US interests. This bears strong resemblance to America’s plan to divide Sudan.

The chances of US success depend upon how she is able to counter threats from other powers. In Sudan countries like France, Britain, China and Russia have made it complicated for America to realise her goal and in Somalia this too may prove to be difficult.