I’ve been tracking goings on in the Horn of Africa on and off for a while. It’s an interesting region – with the U.S. presence in Djibouti, suspected al-Qaeda types in Ethiopia and Somalia, no government in Somalia (but they do have Coca-cola) and pirates a-plenty plundering up and down the East African coast, raping and pillaging the poor saps who live there (well not really, but something’s going on).

Now, an African based media site called Shabelle.net are reporting an incident involving “clashes” between policemen and villagers in Puntland (north eastern Somalia) “after the villagers revolted against mineral exploration activities.”

Whose exploration activities? What minerals? No way could it be oil. Surely not? Well, the article says that “The people in those villages protested after officials from Puntland authority brought an Australian exploration firm to their villages. It is reported that around 25-armed vehicles, locally known technicals were escorting the Australian company.” Pretty neat deal for those Aussies. Must be prospecting for some valuable stuff.

In February, another African based site, Afrol News reported an intriguing story. As you know, what was once Somalia is now a mixture of polities – the most stable and successful of which is Somaliland (a democracy!), along with Puntland (which is dominated by the Somalian president in waiting, Abdullahi Yusuf, and also the area around Mogadishu that is disputed and ruled by clans, probably. Or coke. The south, hit by drought, has very little to govern.

But in the article Afrol reported that forces from Puntland had invaded lands claimed by Somaliland, the territories of Sanaag and Sool, in 2003. This was done in the name of the Somali Transitional Government, a client-in-waiting of the Americans, who happen to be resolute opponents of Somaliland independence. Hence the total lack of international recognition for Somaliland – a state which is better governed than most of the U.S.’ allies in the “War on Terror.”

It turns out that Sanaag and Sool are, fortunately for Puntland – oil provinces. Or they might be. The chances of discovery have been good enough. As Afrol reports “the autonomous government of Puntland had entered into a contract with the small Australian company Range Resources Ltd, selling off 50.1 percent of the sole and exclusive rights to all mineral, oil exploration and development in Puntland, including Sanaag and Sool regions.”

So there we are. The Australians and Puntlanders are invading from the East. The Joint Task Force Horn of Africa is stationed to the North West in Djibouti. Oil, more than likely, gurgles away in between underneath, to its eternal detriment, the nation of Somaliland.

Remember that the Transitional government is a good friend of America. So much so that they signed away their future coastguard duties to an untested American company headed by an accused fraudster.

They also signed away their border control to a Malaysian company, Iris, in a $25 million deal (they can’t afford this in a thousand years by the way). The deal, “[to] design, develop and implement the hardware and software to enable the enrolment, production and issuance of up to 2 million each of e-passport books with inlays and e-Identification cards respectively over a five-year period.” will obviously benefit war-torn, hungry Somalis. If nothing else, it’ll be a nice surprise for Somalis when they wake up in a peaceful country and start paying the bill for their “e-passport books.”

But, back to the oil. Range Resources Ltd have released plenty of information).pdf about their plans in Puntland/Somaliland. In the Nogal Valley, where they are starting off, they plan to build a “small diameter pipeline between 50 and 150 kilometres in length” linking up to the coast, and tankers which will in turn hook up with Yemeni crude exports. They reckon that of their four “ready to drill” prospects, each will yield 500 million barrels of oil – well maybe.

That’s plenty of oil, just a dent in global terms, but plenty for the pockets of Puntland warlords and the shareholders of Range Resources.

The trouble is, it isn’t great news for the villagers who inconsiderately live above possible oil reserves.

In the global scramble for hydrocarbons, this is a pinprick – that’s not why the U.S. are in Djibouti (though I’m sure they are well aware of what’s going down nearby). Nor is it why Topcat Marine are going to be guarding the coasts, or why the U.S. is conjouring up a piracy menace – and stepping up naval patrols in the area.

Trade routes. The veins of a global economic empire. Insurance costs for tankers are going up, terrorism against tankers is becoming fashionable (who wouldn’t go for it? their lumbering, explosive bulk is simply too enticing) and what with sprialling energy prices, those big hulks are becoming more valuable by the second. Particularly for the petro-elite.

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