A Devil’s Bargain in Somalia?

Like the Israelites after the fall of the first Temple (recorded in the book of Lamentations), Somalia’s people suffer innumerable woes. With residents fleeing in the hundreds of thousands, their Jerusalem lies deserted and destroyed (Mogadishu), and many believe that their enemy, Ethiopia, has become their occupying master, just as the Babylonians conquered the Jews. But as scarcity abounds and insurgency forces attempt to scuttle peace talks in Somalia, little attention has been paid to a recent deal of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) with CNOOC, the Chinese oil corporation.
Like the Israelites after the fall of the first Temple (recorded in the book of Lamentations), Somalia’s people suffer innumerable woes. With residents fleeing in the hundreds of thousands, their Jerusalem lies deserted and destroyed (Mogadishu), and many believe that their enemy, Ethiopia, has become their occupying master, just as the Babylonians conquered the Jews. But as scarcity abounds and insurgency forces attempt to scuttle peace talks in Somalia, little attention has been paid to a recent deal of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) with CNOOC, the Chinese oil corporation.The Financial Times reports that Somali Transitional Federal Government representatives granted CNOOC oil exploration rights in return for a majority share of profits. However, the deal is by no means certain: Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi has declared that it is “null and void” until the parliament takes a vote. Although most people with knowledge of the continent’s history rightfully fear exploitation, one must not dismiss the deal out of hand.

There are some clear negatives. Chinese corporations (and those from most other nations, for that matter) have demonstrated little respect for human rights. Their presence might encourage the already rampant abuses by Somali police and occupying Ethiopian forces. Furthermore, if the trend of importing foreign workers to operate oil facilities continues, CNOOC may bring little support to the Somali economy. Thus, Somalia may become deprived of its scarce resources with its people seeing little gain.

Yet there are also benefits. Instability has swamped Somalia for nearly sixteen years, and the Somali government must possess widespread backing to withstand those groups interested in its downfall (some of whom benefit from a lack of governance). If CNOOC found oil, it would have a tremendous economic incentive to support the fragile government. The government also badly needs this source of revenue, as taxation remains impossible in the currently dysfunctional Somali economy. This could help wean it off its unhealthy and unsustainable dependency on Western donors. The contract with CNOOC thus has the potential to encourage a stable government, although the government could have undesirable elements.

Somalis should be wary of foreign incursions onto their soil, especially when they involve natural resources. Yet Somalia cannot afford for the latest move towards peace and governance, the fifteenth such attempt since 1991, to fail and cast the country into further anarchy. The Somali parliament has a difficult and unenviable decision before them, and AFJN hopes that they will choose for the betterment of the Somali people. These people desperately need stability to tackle the drought, disease and food shortages plaguing the country. But even as prospects look grim, we, as the prophet Jeremiah after Jerusalem’s fall (Lamentations 3), must retain hope for restoration. This agreement could be a step along that path.
– Jeff Weaver

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