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Yet Another British Ploy in Somalia


Since 2013 and the signing of the infamous Soma Oil deal with the Somali Government, British interests in the country have been consumed by the relentless pursuit of petroleum resources both off the Somali shore and inland. This has entailed the full commitment of British political, security, humanitarian and development assets to a natural resource interest. This has necessitated, therefore, the expenditure of hundreds of millions of British taxpayer funds—not for the benefit of the Somali people, as claimed—but to secure control of the important oil deposits in southern Somalia. The use of public monies to protect a private interest is usually the charge against Somali authorities, yet here it is on a larger scale—the stuff of Parliamentary inquiries to come.

A map of British financial outlays in Somalia corresponds to the location of now proven petroleum deposits. Specifically, in recent years there has been a disproportionate expenditure of British aid of all kinds in the area of the South West State, a Federal Member State established in 2014. Like all Federal Member States established since then, they have a border with Ethiopia and a seaport. Unlike other States, it is more oil rich.

In order to secure its natural resource venture, since 2013 Britain sought to control the international architecture in and around Somalia, including appointments of subjects loyal to a small network in London that threaded through the World Bank, the United Nations and the European Union funding system for African Union troops in the country. This included infiltration at higher and lower levels in the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM).

However, British dominance in South West State and in UNSOM was shattered in late 2018, when in local elections Britain and by then its faithful UN mission backed the wrong horse. Former Al-Shabaab commander Muktar Robow stood for President. As an individual who remained sanctioned in the United States, Robow’s candidacy was opposed by Ethiopia, the US and the Federal Government in Somalia. Robow was arrested and another candidate was elected. 

In the wake of a series of incalculable political missteps by both Britain and UNSOM, the head of the UN mission, Nicholas Haysom was expelled from the country by the Somali Government. The Security Council issued a luke warm response and the Secretary-General had no choice but to acquiesce in the Somali Government’s decision. He committed thereafter to a process of “consultation” with the Somali Government to avoid another embarrassment.

Britain’s influence continued to slip away, with no real access to South West State and a breakdown in communication with the Somali Government in Mogadishu. It supported a diplomatic camp that believed in punishing the Somali Government for the expulsion, not “consulting” with it. To this end, when the Security Council resolution for renewing UNSOM’s mandate at the end of March was drafted by the United Kingdom, as the “pen holder” in New York, the language of the resolution had a punitive tone towards both the Federal Government and South West State. Last week, the language was opposed and changed by China, Russia and others, marking another political defeat for Britain.

In response, Britain has maneuvered the appointment of a temporary Acting Deputy of UNSOM, George Conway of the United Nations Development Programme. Conway has had a longstanding and intimate relationship with Britain, providing a vehicle to facilitate the translation of British public funds into the protection of a private interest. He is one of the team and is meant to serve as a bulwark for protecting British interests inside a mission currently headless and afloat.

Following the announcement of his appointment on Saturday, a media blitz in Somalia news outlets has followed, purposefully misrepresenting the terms of the appointment. Broadcast has been an image of an appointment that is somehow less temporary than “Acting” and more authoritative than a Deputy, to project that Britain’s man is in charge. But he is not. The publicity gambit is unlikely to payoff as the game is too well known to Somalis and the international community alike.

Britain would do well to stop playing the mirror image of its cynical former colonial games. Like the bully who becomes more brutish as it loses more and more friends, Britain would be more successful and less isolated if it offered an olive branch, overcame its bruised ego and petty animosities, and reached out to those it misperceives as enemies. Whether today’s British representatives and agents can overcome a pathology of manipulation to more readily achieve more sound objectives is a question yet to be answered.