The bombing of Somalia in the past few days has caused worldwide stir, outrage and theories of conspiracy as it emerges that the country has oil. It is no surprise, since Afghanistan and Iraq which are well-documented subjects of military action from the West are both holders of considerable oil reserves, that the thought arises: "here we go again" - namely, (go) "after the oil"? Are these battles fought in the broader war on terror, or part of a territorial onslaught for control of oil reserves; or is the link between these issues inextricable, so that neither can be considered in isolation of the other? I was unaware of the geological backdrop to this region until very recently, but it emerges that there have been a number of geological surveys carried out in the Somali Peninsula and more widely in the Horn of Africa, since the 1980's, which indicate that underlying there are substantial untapped reserves of oil. An estimated 15,000 Ethiopian soldiers invaded Mogadishu, the Somali capital, in late December last with the intention of securing a military defeat of the Islamic Courts Union I.C.U.), which had until then controlled major areas of southern Somalia. The U.S. government has made no secret of its support for the invasion under the banner of the "war against terrorism", dubbed by the Bush administration, and which began immediately following the 9/11 terror attacks. Both Afghanistan and Iraq were then invaded by means that are now widely accepted as being "illegal", and now the war appears to have pushed a phalanx into the Horn of Africa. These are areas of the world that collectively are home to millions of Muslims, and many will undoubtedly perceive these actions as a war against Islam, and efforts by the Christian West to subdue Islam both as a religion and as a resistance movement that dares to oppose the imperialist and colonial forces. Put plainly, there are enormously sensitive issues at stake here. Undoubtedly, it is those actually living there who will bear the brunt of various shows of power as this situation unfolds, and the potential impact of wholesale conflict in this region will be catastrophic for the peoples of Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, who are now being drawn into the business of it. A United Nations resolution has been delivered-up by Britain and the U.S., who hold permanent positions on the Security Council, and is being used to justify sending a "peacekeeping force" to Somalia with the purpose of protecting the transitional government, supported by the U.S. (and the U.K. presumably?), from the I.C.U. forces.
It is, to put it mildly, an extremely tricky situation. Ethiopia and Somalia are two of the poorest nations of the world, and there have been a number of substantial shots of cash injected into them in the form of weapons and loans from The Pentagon, to the tune of $19 million in 2005, with another $10 million worth of weapons promised later this year. The region is one of considerable potential military significance, since ships from naval bases can control the flow of oil-tankers and other cargoes through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (where there was much conflict fought in the 1960's, involving the British). This is in addition to the fact that Africa is reckoned to hold around 95 billion barrels of crude oil, which is about 8% of the world's total. It is however salient to note that 95 billion barrels is just enough to run the world in terms of its oil consumption for about three years! Most of the profits from African oil, e.g. Nigeria do little to improve the lot of the indigenous populations, because the oil, wealth and profits are controlled externally by Western companies such as Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron Texaco.
It may be that the Horn of Africa will become an extension of oil production in the Middle East - a short hop across the Arabian Sea. Who, ultimately, will get their hands on that oil is another matter, and it is highly significant that China is making serious diplomatic efforts in Africa, much to the consternation of the U.S. It is inevitable that East and West will come head to head over oil, as the resource deepens in its scarcity, with a war-torn middle-ground of nations suffering instability and carnage, ruing the oil that has become their misfortune rather than a gift from God.