In a good week, reports from the Horn of Africa couldn’t be more upbeat. “Somalia is a good news story for the region,” declared Johnnie Carson, U.S. ass’t secretary of state for African affairs last October, “for the region, for the international community, but most especially for the people of Somalia itself.”
This year, however, the news picture went from upbeat to grim. Foreign Policy magazine reported that the U.S. has upped its aid to Somali intelligence agencies allied against al-Shabaab, the country’s Islamist insurgency. Training camps were preparing Ugandan peacekeepers to fight Somalia militants, and Predator drones, fighter jets and nearly 2,000 U.S. troops and military civilians were being parked at a base in neighboring Djibouti.
Despite billions in U.S. aid spent on Somalia to, as President Obama observed: “strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace,” a new U.N. report confirms that “the military strength of al-Shabaab, with an approximately 5,000-strong force, remains arguably intact in terms of operational readiness, chain of command, discipline and communication capabilities.”
“By avoiding direct military confrontation, it has preserved the core of its fighting force and resources.”
Meanwhile, as the U.S. is pulled deeper into this costly and seemingly unwinnable war, Western oil companies from Canada and Norway are trolling Somalia’s semi-autonomous regions – Puntland and Somaliland – for potentially-enriching oil exploration contracts.
In some cases Somaliland and Puntland have awarded licenses for exploration zones that overlap.
The U.N. Monitoring Group warns: “Potentially, this means that exploration operations in these blocks, conducted by both DNO (Norway) and Africa Oil (Canada) under the protection of regional security forces, its allied militia or private forces, could generate new conflict between Somaliland and Puntland.”
“It is alarming that regional security forces and armed groups may clash to protect and further Western-based oil companies interests,” the U.N. report said.