Somalia: Imperialists scramble for oil

Between 8 and 10 January 2007 the US bombed villages in the Lower Juba region of southern Somalia near the Kenyan border, killing almost 100 civilians including many children, some burned beyond recognition. The bombings were launched from neighbouring Djibouti by the Joint Combined Task Force Horn of Africa, comprising US Marines, Special Operations Forces and a naval task force whose primary mission has been training regional East African armies ostensibly to fight ‘Islamist terrorist groups’. British PM Blair supported the bombing.

The assault continued US imperialism’s policy in the oil-rich and strategically important Horn of Africa. The US claimed it was targeting the Al Qaida leadership in the region, including three men said to have masterminded the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. On 11 January, the US confirmed that all three suspects had survived. The US has never provided any credible evidence of Al Qaida’s presence in Somalia – the ‘Islamic terrorists’ story is a cover for its real goals – to prevent an Islamic government and to obtain a foothold in a highly strategic area of the world via a client regime.

War in Somalia and the rise of the UIC
After the US-backed Siad Barre government fell in 1991, the US and Italy invaded Somalia to restore a puppet regime and protect imperialist interests. By the time they were forced out in 1994, 10,000 Somalis had been killed. Photographs showed the murder, rape and torture of Somali civilians by Italian soldiers. Rival warlords, big businessmen employing clan-based militias, armed and funded by Italy, the US and Britain, mainly through Ethiopia, Yemen, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, took Somalia over and destroyed it.

There have been 14 attempts by the imperialists to set up a client regime in Somalia since 1991 – the most recent, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was ‘elected’ in Kenya in October 2004. It was not able to enter Somalia until 26 February 2006 when it met in a grain warehouse in Baidoa. The TFG is based on clan lines, with Somalia’s four biggest clans each getting 61 parliamentary seats, and an alliance of minority clans 31 seats, thus perpetuating ethnic divisions. The TFG includes the very warlords who have ruined Somalia over the last 15 years such as Hussein Mohamed Farrah Aydid, a former US marine, now Minister of the Interior, Musa Sudi Yalahwo, Minister of Commerce and its President, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, implicated in extra-judicial killings. The TFG has been recognised by the US, UN and EU but not by the Somali people.

In February 2006, the US secretly set up the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT), a CIA-funded alliance of Somali warlords. The US channelled up to $150,000 a month to the ARPCT, which included known terrorist Mohamed Omar Habeb as well as Sudi Yalahwo. On 6 June 2006 the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) defeated the TFG and its forces, confining it to Baidoa, and drove the ARPCT from Mogadishu and most of Somalia. On 16 June the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, patrolling off Somalia, picked up the fleeing Yalahwo. Others fled to Ethiopia.

A number of Islamic political groups established the first Islamic Sharia courts in Somalia in 1996 and combined in 2002 to form the politically disparate UIC. With their victory the UIC brought a peace and security to Somalia unheard of in 15 years, winning them support from most Somalis. However, on 17 June 2006, 300 Ethiopian soldiers invaded Somalia with US support. On 20 July thousands more troops crossed the border. Ethiopian and US forces have ‘a close working relationship’. Ethiopia has received nearly $20 million in US military aid since 2002. Advisers from the Guam National Guard have been training Ethiopians in infantry skills at two camps in Ethiopia. By 24 December 2006, some 30,000 Ethiopian troops as well as US Special Forces and CIA operatives were inside Somalia. It was the third time Ethiopia had ‘officially’ invaded Somalia since 1993*. Britain and the US actively support Ethiopia and the repressive regime of Meles Zenawi. Zenawi rigged the 2005 Ethiopian elections and his security forces murdered 193 people who protested against the fraud. 80,000 others were arrested to quell the protests.

On 6 December 2006, the UN Security Council approved US-drafted Resolution 1725 calling for the deployment of Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and African Union (AU) peacekeepers to Somalia to establish ‘peace and stability’. It also authorised lifting the UN arms embargo. The intention is to allow US-armed and trained Kenyan, Ugandan and Rwandan troops, responsible for genocide in DRCongo, to complete the work begun by Ethiopia – propping up the puppet TFG. On 28 December, the UIC were driven from Mogadishu, melting away without a fight, they said to prevent bloodshed.

The TFG and despised warlords are now back in Mogadishu. The UIC intend to launch a guerrilla insurgency against the imperialist-backed occupying troops. Since war erupted in Mogadishu in February 2006, hundreds have been killed and thousands wounded – many of them civilians. The fact that Somalia at the time was suffering the worst drought in 45 years with 1.4 million people facing starvation was of no concern to the imperialists.

Somali resources and imperialist rivalry
Somalia is just across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Gulf of Aden and overlooks the daily passage of oil tankers and warships to and from the Middle East. A quarter of the world’s oil production passes through the narrow Straits of the Bab Al Mandeb, one of the world’s seven ‘oil transit choke points’. In addition, Somalia, rich in uranium, oil and natural gas, mostly unexploited, sits in the middle of the oil-rich East and Horn of Africa. Somalia has 200 billion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves and is likely to have oil.

With political instability potentially affecting oil supplies from Latin America and the Middle East, African oil has grown in strategic importance. The continent has become a battleground for imperialists scrambling to control oil, gas and other types of energy. ‘Africa has a clear role to play in energy security for future generations,’ according to Shell’s general manager for gas and power in South Africa (East African Standard, 15 November 2006). Hence imperialism’s eagerness to control Somalia.

The US bombing raids in southern Somalia exposed imperialist rivalries. On 9 January, Italy’s Deputy Foreign Minister criticised the bombing as a ‘grave intervention...[the] dialogue and negotiations that we have vigorously requested should resume and take the place of arms’. The next day a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the raids ‘complicate the situation’.

This criticism had nothing to do with concern for Somalis and more to do with oil. Since 1986, US oil corporations and Shell have carved up Somalia between them with oil concessions, leaving Italy’s Agip and France’s Total as minor players; they have been trying to get back. In February 2001 Total signed an exploration agreement for the Indian Ocean off southern Somalia. The US has accused Italy of funnelling arms to Jowhar-based warlords through Ethiopia despite a UN ban. Italy denies this, saying it was ‘going with the centre of gravity’ (The Economist, 14 December 2005). Britain and other EU countries continue to fund these terrorists too.

* Ethiopian troops crossed into Somalia in 1996 to supply militias in the
border regions with arms. In 2002, former Somali military officials admitted they were trained and armed by Ethiopia to ‘terrorise the entire city of Mogadishu’.
Charles Chinweizu

FRFI 195 February / March 2007