Lawrence Solomon: Occupy Somalia

(May 18, 2012) Behind the first onshore strike by European Union naval forces against a suspected pirate base on the coast of Somalia: oil wealth that could rival Kuwait’s. New series.

The Somalian capital of Mogadishu in 1977, before it degenerated into chaos.

The Somalian capital of Mogadishu in 1977, before it degenerated into chaos.

The EU Naval Force made headlines this week by blasting a pirate base on Somali shores and pirate ships out of Somali waters. The well-publicized and logical rationale for the navy’s aggressive new stance: Somali piracy costs the world economy an estimated US$7-billion a year.

An unpublicized and equally logical reason for this action: On Somali land and under the waters now frequented by Somali pirates lies oil wealth that could rival Kuwait’s.

Many oil companies are manoeuvring for a part of this potential oil bonanza — they include firms from China, Australia, the U.S. and Canada, which are already engaged in drilling — but the inside track may be held by British Petroleum and the UK, which has a long history of resource extraction in both Africa and the Middle East. In recent months, British foreign secretary William Hague visited Mogadishu, the Somali capital, for talks on “the beginnings of an opportunity” to rebuild the country and British Prime Minster David Cameron hosted an international summit on Somalia attended by 55 delegations, including a U.S. contingent led by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

“There’s room for everybody when this country gets back on its feet and is ready for investment,” said Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali after the conference, in offering a share of oil and other natural resources in return for help with reconstruction. “What we need is capital from countries like the UK to invest. If the private sector can come in and do the work, then we welcome them.”

But just who are the “we” Prime Minister Ali refers to? He heads the civil-war-wracked country’s transitional government which was installed in Somalia a decade ago by Western powers, which proved so unpopular that it soon needed an invasion by U.S. backed Ethiopian troops to remain in power, which relies for its continuance on U.S. drone strikes on the militants’ stronghold in the south of the country, and whose mandate expires in August of this year.

Not that the transitional government isn’t an improvement over the anarchy that reigned in the decades prior to its installation — Somalia, best known to many for Black Hawk Down, is the poster child of the failed state. Soon after it attained the status of a state in 1960 after a period of British and Italian rule, this anarchic country of warlords, of four major clans and several smaller ones, fell victim to a military strongman who imposed a Marxist government that ruined the economy.

Somalia is today a hotbed of piracy and al-Qaeda-linked terrorists; a country that over the last two decades has endured near-continual war causing hundreds of thousands to die from violence and starvation, and a million to flee to other lands; a country of the impoverished, almost half of whom live on less than $1 a day. In the absence of good governance, any attempt to divide Somalia’s wealth among BP, Shell, and the other large and small players that are jockeying for position is likely to spell doom, particularly now that the stakes have been raised.

Rather than maintaining the pretence that Somalia rates status as a sovereign country — it is in fact comprised of several autonomous regions — the Somali people would be best served by reverting to the only system in the region’s recent history that saw relative peace and prosperity — when order was imposed by colonial powers acting under the authority of the United Nations. The post-Second World War protectorate of British Somaliland and the trust territory of Italian Somaliland fared relatively well until in 1960 these areas merged to become a greater Somali Republic. Had these Western powers continued to rule and to develop the Somali territories, untold suffering would have been averted and Somalis would have been better prepared for ultimate self-rule, as occurred especially with former British colonies that enjoyed longer colonial rule, such as India, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Today’s status quo — a U.S.-imposed government sustained by foreign troops bolstered by commando EU raids on pirates — is no way to run a country. Neither is it an option for the West to wash its hands of the anarchy. Into the vacuum that its departure would create could come Russia or China, countries with a poor history of governance. Better for the UN to step into this breach — this is one of the purposes for which it was formed — and when it next becomes time to relinquish rule in the Somali territories, their peoples through referendums should have viable options to live apart, in small states based on their autonomous regions, and not just in a greater Somalia that history shows has not been all that great.

To see the EU Naval Force explanation of its mission against the pirates, click here.

First in a series. Next: Capitalist Haven

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe. This article first appeared in the Financial Post.

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About Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon is one of Canada's leading environmentalists. His book, The Conserver Solution (Doubleday) popularized the Conserver Society concept in the late 1970s and became the manual for those interested in incorporating environmental factors into economic life. An advisor to President Jimmy Carter's Task Force on the Global Environment (the Global 2000 Report) in the late 1970's, he has since been at the forefront of movements to reform foreign aid, stop nuclear power expansion and adopt toll roads. Mr. Solomon is a founder and managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and the executive director of its Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute divisions. He has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the editor and publisher of the award-winning The Next City magazine, and the author or co-author of seven books, most recently The Deniers, a #1 environmental best-seller in both Canada and the U.S. .
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