On the 28th of February 2019, al-Shabaab fighters carried out a suicide attack on the Hotel Maka al-Mukarama in Mogadishu, killing 29 people and injuring a further 80. A horrifying event, it served to illustrate the instability and violence that still plagues Somalia after almost 30 years of domestic conflict and state failure. Yet, only weeks earlier, another story was unfolding in London. It was here that the Somali government held a meeting comprised of prospective partners with the intention of opening up the nation’s offshore oil fields to foreign exploitation. While seemingly banal, it is this event, not the terrorist attack in Mogadishu, which holds the most importance for reconstruction efforts in Somalia.
Optimistic estimates place Somalia’s offshore oil and gas reserves at around 110 billion barrels, which would make the country the fifth largest global producer of petroleum. Even if these estimates are overly ambitious, it seems apparent that Somalia’s coast is rich in commercially-viable oil resources.
For Somalia, a country which consistently ranks as one of the least developed in Sub-Saharan Africa, the windfall of revenue from these oil fields presents an opportunity to significantly improve the lives of its citizens. Yet, for others, development of its oil resources may be the most destructive course of action the Somali government could take at this stage.
Firstly, Somalia’s institutions are perhaps the weakest in the world. Since 2006, Transparency International has ranked Somalia as the worst country in terms of corruption. Furthermore, as a result of the continuing domestic conflict, the state and its institutions have been rendered impotent, barely able to project power inside Mogadishu, let alone in the rest of the country. If the resource curse is really a curse of institutions, then a resource boom in Somalia would be among the most destructive we have seen.
Development of oil resources in Somalia will also aggravate the already-pressing tensions in the country. Since 1991, with the commencement of the Somali Civil War, Somalia has been subject to a plethora of violent insurgents and warlords vying amongst themselves and with the government. This will likely be compounded by the exploitation of oil. Not only will it create useful targets for sabotage and divide warring actors over wealth distribution; it is also highly divisive politically, with most opposition parties, and large segments of the population, seeing oil exploitation as tantamount to a constitutional violation.
At this stage, we must return to the al-Shabaab attack in Mogadishu. As we have said, this event, and others like it, illustrate the ongoing instability within Somalia; however, focusing only on such events ignores an important fact about Somalia: it is making progress. Since 2012, with the establishment of the Federal Government of Somalia, the nation has been in the very early stages of reconstruction. If oil development is rushed while the country is still weak, any semblance of order or peace that has been created may collapse, and this time reconstruction may not be possible.
Abdi, Hakim. “Somalia Oil Bonanza: Boon or Curse?” New African, 1 March 2019. Accessed 06/04/2019: https://newafricanmagazine.com/latest-and-current-affairs/scramble-in-somalia-will-the-oil-bonanza-be-a-boon-or-curse/
Dick-Godfrey, Alex “Somalia: The Next Oil Superpower?” The National Interest, 15 January 2015. Accessed 05/04/2019: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/somalia-the-next-oil-superpower-12041
Kibble, Steve and Michael Walls. “Somalia: Oil and (In)security.” Review of African Political Economy. vol. 39 no. 133 (2012), pp. 525-535
Maruf, Harun. “Somalia Readies for Oil Exploration, Still Working on Petroleum Law.” Voice of America, 13 February 2019. Accessed 05/04/2019: https://www.voanews.com/a/somalia-readies-for-oil-exploration-still-working-on-petroleum-law/4785064.html
Momodu, Sulaiman. “Somalia Rising from the Ashes.” Africa Renewal, April 2016. Accessed 06/04/2019: https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2016/somalia-rising-ashes
Pape, Utz. “Somali Poverty Profile 2016: Findings from Wave 1 of the Somali High Frequency Survey.” The World Bank.
Sperber, Amanda. “Is Somalia Ready for an Oil Boom?” Mail and Guardian, 15 February 2019. Accessed 06/04/2019: https://mg.co.za/article/2019-02-15-00-is-somalia-ready-for-an-oil-boom
“Somalia: Many killed in al-Shabab attack in Mogadishu.” Al Jazeera, 1 March 2019. Accessed 05/04/2019: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/somalia-death-toll-al-shabab-attack-mogadishu-rises-190301070517452.html
 “Somalia: Many killed in al-Shabab attack in Mogadishu,” Al Jazeera, 1 March 2019. Accessed 05/04/2019: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/somalia-death-toll-al-shabab-attack-mogadishu-rises-190301070517452.html
 Harun Maruf “Somalia Readies for Oil Exploration, Still Working on Petroleum Law,” Voice of America, 13 February 2019. Accessed 05/04/2019: https://www.voanews.com/a/somalia-readies-for-oil-exploration-still-working-on-petroleum-law/4785064.html
 Steve Kibble and Michael Walls, “Somalia: Oil and (In)security,” Review of African Political Economy, vol. 39 no. 133 (2012) p. 525
 Alex Dick-Godfrey, “Somalia: The Next Oil Superpower?” The National Interest, 15 January 2015. Accessed 05/04/2019: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/somalia-the-next-oil-superpower-12041
 Utz Pape, “Somali Poverty Profile 2016: Findings from Wave 1 of the Somali High Frequency Survey,” The World Bank, p. 10
 Hakim Abdi, “Somalia Oil Bonanza: Boon or Curse?” New African, 1 March 2019. Accessed 06/04/2019: https://newafricanmagazine.com/latest-and-current-affairs/scramble-in-somalia-will-the-oil-bonanza-be-a-boon-or-curse/
 Kibble and Walls, “Somalia: Oil and (In)security,” p. 533
 Amanda Sperber, “Is Somalia Ready for an Oil Boom?” Mail and Guardian, 15 February 2019. Accessed 06/04/2019: https://mg.co.za/article/2019-02-15-00-is-somalia-ready-for-an-oil-boom
 Sulaiman Momodu, “Somalia Rising from the Ashes,” Africa Renewal, April 2016. Accessed 06/04/2019: https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2016/somalia-rising-ashes