gulf-of-adenContinuing our African focus over the last couple of days, let’s turn to Somalia.

I spent some six months in the country over twenty years ago and even then the American oil company Amoco was busy exploring for oil in the North of the country and in the Gulf of Aden.

The reasoning being simple – the logic went back then that the huge oil fields found in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf curve like a spoon under the Yemen and Red Sea and pop up in Somalia and the Gulf of Aden.

Amoco’s excitement was also due to large natural bitumen seepage in the North of the country. But, to my knowledge, nothing ever came of it.

Since then, Somalia has descended into chaos and anarchy and become the country largely forgotten by the outside world.

Or has it? Last week, the last ambassador of the United States to Somalia (1994-1995), Daniel H. Simpson, who is now an associate editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote a piece called “Folly in Somalia”.

He posed the question “why, apart from the only lightly documented charge of Islamic extremism among the Shabab, is the United States reengaging in Somalia at this time?”

The week before that the New York Times had reported that the US was offering increased military support to a new Somali government offensive.

The primary reason for US engagement is of course the worry that Somalia, as a failed state, is becoming a haven for terrorists, and, as the paper put it:

“The United States is increasingly concerned about the link between Somalia and Yemen, a growing extremist hot spot, with fighters going back and forth across the Red Sea in what one Somali watcher described as an “Al Qaeda exchange program”.”

Chasing Al Qaeda round the Horn of Africa may be the US’s primary objective, but a great article on Information Clearing House, also points to other reasons and that of course means oil.

The same day as Daniel Simpson penned his piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette , a UPI press article wrote a feature titled “East Africa is next hot oil zone.” The news agency disclosed that:

“East Africa is emerging as the next oil boom following a big strike in Uganda’s Lake Albert Basin. Other oil and natural gas reserves have been found in Tanzania and Mozambique and exploration is under way in Ethiopia and even war-torn Somalia.”

The region, until recently largely ignored by the energy industry, is “the last real high-potential area in the world that hasn’t been fully explored,” Richard Schmitt, CEO of Dubai’s Black Marlin Energy, which is prospecting in East Africa, told UPi.

About Somali it said: “A 1993 study by Petroconsultants of Geneva concluded that Somalia has two of the most potentially interesting hydrocarbon-yielding basins in the entire region — one in the central Mudugh region, the other in the Gulf of Aden.”
Hence Amoco’s interest in the late eighties.

And hence, in part, America’s interest now….

Meanwhile two days ago, the oil company Range announced it is finalising the work on the first exploration well to be drilled in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region for over 16 years, after concluding negotiations with the Government of the Puntland State.

The boys are back in town …