AMISOM, Museveni, and the Lure of Somali Oil

Image: Flickr, Anthony
Image: Flickr, Anthony

On December 22 the UN Security Council agreed to a request by the African Union Commission to expand the existing Amisom (African Union Mission in Somalia) force in Somalia from 8000 to 12000 troops.

Maj Ba-Hoku Barigyes, spokesperson for Amisom, noted in an article published by Uganda’s The Monitor newspaper that, “These soldiers are, in my humble view, executing one of the most difficult peace missions in the world.” This is no exaggeration; the Ugandan and Burundian troops deployed in Somalia face daily, and deadly, assaults. With the additional troops, Amisom hopes to consolidate the hard-fought military gains it has made during 2010 in order to take control of the remaining half of Mogadishu under insurgent control.

Uganda supplies the bulk of the Amisom force, and, as a relatively small, landlocked East African country, it is shouldering much more than its normal responsibility to bring stability to Africa’s war-torn horn. Uganda’s involvement in the Somali peacekeeping operation can be lauded as an indication of the country’s willingness to get down and dirty in the tough job of bringing stability to the region. Uganda has already had to pay a bitter price for its participation in the Amisom operation when Al Shabaab staged terrorist attacks on Ugandan soil last July.

As was the case with Uganda’s involvement in what some analysts call “Africa’s First World War”, during the years before and after the fall of the Mobutu regime in Kinshasa, controversy seems to follow Uganda’s regional military adventures.

Salim Saleh, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s younger brother, has ended up in the midst of a storm due to the involvement of his Uganda-registered company, Saracen Security, in the training of a Somali anti-piracy force.

Saleh was, somewhat controversially, fingered as a potential culprit in the plundering of DRC mineral resources during the ill-fated Ugandan imbroglio in the Eastern DRC. Questions are being asked about the legality, and political objectives of Saracen Security’s training of a militia in Somalia. A cloud of mystery surrounds this training exercise, which is in no small way exacerbated by the fact that an anonymous ‘Muslim nation’ is footing the bill.

Somalia is a country that has already been torn apart by more than two decades of war.

The Balkanisation of the territory has already seen the formation of Somaliland and Puntland as two ‘independent’ statelets (with no international recognition). The fact that the Ugandan president brother’s company (which also, coincidentally, provides security services on Uganda’s own oil fields) is getting itself embroiled in the virulent mix-up of Somalia’s conflicts, could hold many negative consequences for the Amisom operation.

During the much publicised, and disastrous US-led “Black Hawk Down” mission in Somalia during the early 1990s, the US was criticised as merely seeking a humanitarian cover for its real intentions of safeguarding the interests of US oil companies that were active in Somalia during the 1980s. Conoco, Amoco, Chevron, and Phillips oil companies all held extensive oil exploration properties in Somalia under the Siaad Barre regime. After the collapse of Barre’s government and the caving in of the state, these companies declared Force Majeure.

By allowing his younger brother to involve himself in a somewhat risky and politically inflammable conflict, the Ugandan president runs the risk of providing ideological cannon fodder to Islamist forces opposed to the Amisom operation in the country. Already leaders in the Somali insurgency are saying that Museveni is only interested in Somalia’s oil, citing as ‘evidence’, Uganda’s involvement in the DRC war and allegations of gross human rights abuses and the plundering of mineral resources.

Whether this is mere conjecture or not, does not matter. For forces locked in a life-and-death struggle for political and economic survival in Somalia, any piece of conjecture will do to denigrate, or undermine the legitimacy of the Amisom force. And, by implication, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that is still hanging on by its fingernails in the blown-out, war-battered capital city Mogadishu.

Regardless of this controversy, oil is clearly to be had in Somalia. On January 17 Africa Oil (Canada) announced that the company together with its partners, Range Resources and Lion Energy, concluded negotiations with the Puntland government.

Africa Oil’s exploration licence for the Dharoor Valley Exploration Area and the Nugaal Valley Exploration Area has been extended to January 2012. Keith Hill, president and CEO of Africa Oil, remains positive that the upcoming wells in the rift basins of Puntland hold the same potential as related basins in Yemen that have yielded upwards of 6 billion barrels of reserves.

As Amisom slugs it out with insurgents in the hotly contested streets of Mogadishu, another, and potentially much more deadly, conflict may be simmering further north where the of Puntland and Somaliland are inking exploration deals with international oil companies.

Uganda’s presence and participation in the Amisom operation is much appreciated by the AU. But, a company such as Saracen Security, headed by a brother of Uganda’s president, will not do much to allay fears that another bloodstained chapter on Somalia’s oil has begun.

31 Jan 2011