Several friends sent me links to this video yesterday. More than one referred to it as “the best thing on the Internet,” and I can’t disagree:
When writing about thin media coverage of African issues in American media, I’ve largely focused on the closing of foreign news bureaus, the difficulty of getting deeper news insights from news agency sources, etc. But given how much American news media consists of talking heads pontificating on current events, it’s wonderful to think about what the average blowhard would do with the excellent question: “What’s going to happen to Nigerian oil?”
If you think the “Situation in Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex“, it’s got nothing on the current situation in Somalia, which is extremely hard to navigate without professional help.
Remember Somalia? It’s the third front on the endless war on terror, the one where US special forces backed up an Ethiopian military invasion. The Ethiopian army chased out the Union of Islamic Courts, who had managed to stabilize Mogadishu, and installed the UN-recognized but largely impotent Transitional Federal Government. The TFG has lost control of Mogadishu, which is now referred to by some commentators as “Baghdad On-The-Sea”. (In an article with that title by Anna Husarska for the International Rescue Committee, she points out that pilots from Somaliland and Puntland routinely will refuse to fly into Mogadishu, suggesting that it’s even more dangerous than Baghdad, at least in that respect.)
While it’s not news that Mogadishu isn’t a safe place for anyone to be, the increasing violence in Puntland and Somaliland is catching some people off guard. These nothern regions of Somalia have been relatively peaceful in recent years, escaping much of the chaos of the south. Somaliland declared itself independent in 1991 and has been seeking recognition as an independent state from the international community, with little success, using the borders of the former British Somaliland. Puntland, further south, has refused to break away from Mogadishu, but has a semi-autonomous regional government that’s allied with the TFG, though not part of it.
Recent tensions within the TFG between President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and prime minister Ali Mohamed Gedi have weakened Yusuf’s authority. Yusuf’s power base is Puntland, and recent developments in Puntland point to Yusuf’s weakness (and his need to maintain military power in Mogadishu, away from his home base.) The Sanaag region, in dispute between Puntland and Somaliland, has broken away and declared itself autonomous as Makhir State. And now the Sool region, ethnically aligned with Puntland, but formerly part of British Somaliland, is in play, with clashes between Puntland and Somaliland-aligned militias in Los Anod and families fleeing from the region.
The Economist takes a good pass at the situation, including some helpful maps, and an elucidation of the factors involved – clan tensions, historical borders, conflicts within the TFG, and oil. Abdurahman Warsame has a detailed analysis of the current conflict, oulining the history of clan relationships – he predicts the disputed regions will remain aligned with Puntland, but worries that the tensions may lead Yusuf to pull his forces from Mogadishu, further destabilizing that city and the already shaky TFG.
The most thorough analysis I could find was from Dr. Michael Weinstein at Purdue University, who has published an epic report on Power and Interest News Report. His report outlines the reasons for tension between Gedi and Yusuf, putting the blame on disputes over oil deals signed with foreign partners. Yusuf has reportedly signed an oil exploration deal with CNOOC, the Chinese oil giant, while Gedi is proposing a national oil law that would void all previous deals and give exploration rights to an Indonesian-Kuwaiti partnership. This oil conflict also includes a conflict over corruption charges against justices, the attempted removal from office of the attorney general, as well as layers of clan tension and intrigue.
Perhaps it makes sense that most mainstream news outlets aren’t running much Somalia coverage – Reuters, AP and AFP release details on each incident of violence, but it’s hard to find a long-form story analyzing the situation or predicting a way forward. As Abdurahman points out in another article, reporting from Mogadishu is incredibly dangerous, with journalists targetted for government harrassment and, in some cases, assasination. But the real problem in US media may be that it would simply take a very long time to explain how Somalia reached the state it’s in today and why the instability of the Horn of Africa has prompted the US military to, very quietly, open another front.