Oil Wars: The Next Great Driver of Somali Conflict?

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Twenty-eight years after Somalia’s brawling civil war, the question now is: in which direction is the country heading? The dangers of this are now bigger than the collective episodes of violence. There is no obvious meeting place to resolve the country’s entrenched national polarisation. Increasingly divisive political entrepreneurs, weakened institutions, a sell-out or abandonment of responsibility by the political leadership, and the legitimisation of violence by extremists have become the “in” way, with the means justifying the ends. We live in an age where there is great anxiety about these threats to peace and stability.

Among the emerging issues are intense disputes over natural resources that may become sources of conflict in future. The ‘greed’ mechanism is used to explain the link that is now evident between internal conflicts and resource wealth, with groups fighting to obtain control over the revenue of resources. There have also been disputes over the distribution of land and highly valuable resource revenues. Despite this, there has only been a small amount of research conducted into how post-conflict time is affected by conflict resources. Natural resource conflicts have been present in Somalia for a number of years. A common pool of resources, like water, has been a source of conflict between clans and sub-clans in Somali history. Such conflicts, particularly over water, have been greatly documented and shown to lead to both violence and political instability in the country.

Oil exploration is fairly new to Somalia but already looks to be a promising endeavour. However, reforms will need to be made in order to avert the cycle of conflict which has become the norm, and for Somalia to turn the production of oil into a good socioeconomic development and reduce the rampant poverty in the country. Due to recurring security threats coming from non-state actors, like terrorist groups, and the political conflict that exists between the centre and federal member states, there is a significant concern over how capable the federal government is going to be at managing the oil in the country.

Insufficient security and a lack of political institutional capacity make Somalia a fragile country, despite the progress that is beginning to be made towards a stable future. Internal conflict and corruption are present, meaning that the country’s oil resources could result in violence and conflict, and have detrimental implications for the political structure and socioeconomic development of Somalia if successful measures are not instigated. There is a possibility that conflict may be rekindled due to the oil resources and the changes that will be caused to already fragmented communities. The changes to conditions and relations, in a socioeconomic sense, may result in more struggle as Somalis try to get access to the financial benefits and opportunities that come with the oil extraction.

This article is the start of a series of papers that are going to be published in the upcoming months, each adopting a distinctive and divergent perspective on the topic with the purpose of enriching public debate. In this first publication, a reflection on the potential unrest/conflict concerning resource management will be presented. The possible constraints and impacts of hypothetical but potential events will be summarised in order to promote further understanding of the scale, complexity, and nature of the event, in relation to the impact that it will have post-conflict on economic and social recompilation, political stability, and security in Somalia.

An Analysis of the Macro-Micro Oil Conflict in Somalia 

Dispossession may be the beginning of oil activity conflict in Somalia, with the potential pollution of fishing water, pastures, boreholes, and wells. This could produce many possible outcomes, such as the loss of various sources of livelihood, poverty, and a contest over the water and land that remains, changing both the socioeconomic conditions and pre-established structures. The result of this may be that seeking rent for oil resources becomes a primary source of livelihood, along with the oil resources. The evolution and development of this form of structural conflict could result in greed, the kind of economic opportunism that occurs as a result of illegal operations, like oil bunkering, fuel grievances and militarism. Other possible changes that could result from this evolution include additional local leadership conflicts and struggles over the acquisition of influential positions where the presence of oil has created more opportunities and been very beneficial.

In this regard, there are multiple ways to characterise developments in the oil economy, such as environmental elements and environmental scarcity; employment and livelihood loss; an altered local economy that will encompass the population in large numbers and lead to violent conflict; and both a scarcity of land and conflict over land ownership. If this management was to prevail, all of Somalia would be impacted by it, and become dependent on the established oil economy, either indirectly or directly. Compensation and rent may become the only income for communities whose fishing waters and farms have been depleted by the production of oil. Paradoxically, oil might turn out to be a source of violent conflict, instead of improving the economic and social well-being of these communities.

This could be very much heightened by the struggle for the other opportunities and benefits that derive from oil resources, such as payments for land ownership, land compensation for the oil activities, employment, and compensation for oil activities on the remaining farmland and fishing waters. The conflict over these benefits and opportunities may turn peaceful communities who are dependent on a common pool of resources into areas of conflict. There is a possibility that the opportunities and benefits may never be properly shared, such as in the case of a group that obtains control of the resources or a group that suffers as they have little benefit from the social and environmental results of the oil activities.

The different conditions this would create, in a socioeconomic sense, such as livelihood loss, unemployment, deterioration of the environment, and poverty, could lead to inequality and altered social relations where those who can adapt more successfully will receive greater benefit. With oil production and exploration having a widespread impact on communities, this kind of occurrence does not often occur without there being a collective push for compensation. Violent conflicts may be fuelled at the core by new social relations and economic conditions, as the benefits and opportunities from oil, and the distribution and control of the resources would create both social inequality and exclusion, either unintentionally or intentionally. This could take place as a result of the new social economic conditions and social relations, thereby setting clan against clan, or groups in a particular clan against each other. In most situations, it lays the foundation for protracted grievances and a desire to assume ownership.

These cultures can emanate from the new socioeconomic conditions and social relations that the economy of oil resources introduce, which can make it possible to gain access to opportunities and benefits, depending on the position taken by a person, group, community or communities. The position and actions of people may depend on what aspects of oil production affect them the most. A grudging attitude can have a range of causes, from the underdevelopment of the community or communities to the non-payment of promised compensation or selective payment of compensation, or financial inducements or other forms of empowerment, such as contracts, scholarships or employment to just a few people in a community.

One further area of importance is the effect that oil resources have on power, governance, and leadership in communities, and the problems caused by this. Oil resources can become a major determinant of the economy, as access to oil could mean access to a better livelihood. Therefore, any opportunity that can provide such access becomes highly valued. Some of these opportunities might be in the hands of traditional elders, politicians, community development associations, or “youth” leadership. These positions could be fiercely contested by groups and communities because of the access they facilitate to the opportunities and benefits provided by the oil resource.

These benefits and opportunities would seriously influence the nature of politics, leadership and power struggles within the federal government and federal member states, as well as between communities or clans. These changes in the nature of politics, leadership and power struggles are the result of the need to gain control and distribution of the benefits and opportunities of the oil resource. Thus, oil benefits and opportunities could become defining factors of the new socioeconomic conditions and social relations that entire communities have to accept. Consequently, new power relations might be created that are sustained by violence and fierce struggles. Thus, the wielding of power or local influence, or the possession of local governance and local rulership, guarantees access to the control and distribution of oil resource benefits. These stakeholders could struggle to appropriate these positions of power in order to profit from this new oil economy. Importantly, these power struggles for access to oil benefits and opportunities might become even fiercer, as groups and individuals take to violent conflicts in order to either gain or remain in power. The unequal distribution of advantages and disadvantages in society redefines relationships and behaviour in society, and this could breed violent conflict.

Sociopolitical cultures, such as neo-patrimonialism, prebendalism, clientelism and other bad practices in governance, could be reinforced by oil resources that are not only at the centre – as is this case at the federal level – but also at federal member state level. Funds that are meant for the public good are stolen or embezzled at the centre. This is done in the same way that general compensation funds that have been given to communities and development funds are stolen or embezzled by the leaders of federal member states. Getting part of the funds could become, for everyone, part of your ‘national cake’. With this competition and fierce struggle for leadership and power, violent conflicts could become the norm.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the primary point of this article is to put forward an analysis of a conflict of a hypothetical nature, over Somali oil. To do this, the paper has evaluated a number of likely variables and highlighted how the absence of a wealth-sharing mechanism could have a devastating impact.

The paper is designed to inform policymakers about the implications of poor resource management. Somalia now has a window of opportunity to put plans, policies and institutions in place that will mitigate the risks which are often associated with natural resource wealth. The challenges can only be addressed by the government in a proactive manner. Strong institutions will need to be built in order to overcome the low levels of institutional capacity that are currently evident in the country, so that corruption is prevented and to provide the platform for a dialogue between the government and the citizenry, and the government and federal member states. Concerns over corruption and the blurred lines that exist between the political and business elites means the creation of laws against anti-corruption are required, as well as the declaration of business interests by politicians.

If future unrest, resulting from grievances, is to be evaded, public expectations will need to be managed cautiously and the government must make sure that communities who are impacted by resource extraction have a tangible stake in the exploitation of those resources. In order to provide communities with the ability to seek employment within the new sectors, the government will have to encourage the transfer of skills within communities in Somalia. Combined with effective legislation and policies, this will help to stop these communities from becoming disenfranchised. There is also a great need to reduce the ingrained inequality that currently exists throughout the country, and for the government to facilitate a consistent transfer of wealth to the citizens. The level at which the government is able to create institutions and implement policies that will translate the country’s resource wealth into broad-based, sustainable prosperity for Somalia as a whole will be a key factor in determining whether such violence develops into a broader civil conflict.

In the second of our series of essays, we will look more closely at some of the remedies that are available and could mitigate these conflicts over natural resources.


Adan Omar Hashi is a researcher and holds a Bachelor Degree in German and English languages from the University Of Salford and an M.S.C in Development Management from the University of East London.

E-mail: adan.hashi@yahoo.com
Twitter: @ahashi19

Firadada Hoos ka Dhiibo Ama ku soodir E-mailkaan : SomaliPressOnline@gmail.com

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