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Somalia: A Gateway or a Gauntlet?

Ancient & New External Actors

Dr. Udub M. Mukhtar, PhD, Email: udub at isosi dot org

July 1, 2015

General Alfonzo de Albuquerque has over five centuries ago conquered and occupied Socotra, an archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean off the northern coast of Somalia. His strategy was to deal with enemies who may get assistance from dominant Muslim countries between Europe and Asia. The Portuguese Empire has, then, immediately begun and positioned solid foundations for the construction of an alliance between Western states and the Abyssinian Empire (Tigray, Amhara, and Eritrea) in the Horn of Africa (HoA). In response, the Ottoman Empire aligned itself with The Somaliland Empire2 (Ajuran, Adal and other smaller Sultanates and Emirates). Ensuing wars continued for a protracted time and political ramifications still haunt the victims.

The alliance’s strategies finally terminated the Ottoman-Portuguese War. The Ottoman Empire itself was defeated and dissolved in 1922 and the current border of its core component was set with The Treaty of Lausanne. The Portuguese Empire has succeeded in converting the Indian Ocean into a Portuguese lake and a domain of the West henceforth. However, it was also finally reduced to a small European nation-state in 1912 after Britain issued an ultimatum and rejected The Pink Map, which represented Portuguese colonial claims of sovereignty at the Scramble for Africa (SFA) in 1885. The UK, France and Italy jumped into the pool for the Scramble for Somaliya (SFS), mirroring the SFA. Thus, the HoA remained a conflict- prone territory for five centuries and neither The Somaliland nor Abyssinia enjoyed meaningful economic or political stability since then. European colonialism and the cold war between NATO and Warsaw have come and gone and unipolar world order triumphed in 1989 after the Soviet Union collapsed. Two years later, Somalia and Ethiopia seemed to buckle down for political reconfigurations. Eritrea gained hard earned freedom and independence, and the Tigre liberation fighters took over the control of Ethiopia in 1991.

Instead of evolving into a Gateway and a hub for a politically and economically integrated East and Horn of Africa region, Somalia has been running a Gauntlet of adversaries for over 80 years. Its strategic and geopolitical location, at the junction of Afro-asiatic and international cultures, trade, and transcontinental maritime shipping lanes, attracted international actors seeking economic and political influences. Abyssinia refused to be an inconsequential bystander. Since around when the concept of a modern nation-state for the Somali-speaking people first emerged in earnest in the 1930s, The Somaliland has developed into a categorical theater and an excellent case study for never-ending domestic discord, and international economic, geopolitical and theopolitical competitions. This, in turn, engendered expanded and perpetual armed conflicts throughout the Somali Peninsula and into Abyssinia, which has changed its name to Ethiopia after annexing Eritrea, Oromia, and other ethnic territories in the HoA. The conflicts took new dimensions when strategic starvation, terrorism, piracy, maritime resource looting and speculations for economic exploitations of hydrocarbon resources flourished in the territories.

Ancient and new actors are active again in The Somaliland Theater. Ethiopia continues to use diplomacy from its old playbook as a dominant member and host of the African Union (AU) headquarters even if it is still dependent on donors and lacking clarity on its democratic governance. Kenya enters the stage as an emerging iHub for business, technology, and democratic governance. Portugal, the UK, France, and Italy reenter the contention as members of the European Union (EU). Turkey reenters the rivalry not as a member of the EU, but as an important founding member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and emerging economic power. The US pursues its century-old economic and strategic interests even it uses incremental, tentative and skewed policies. China now looms and then sleeps large in the dark. Stated


external actor’s interests are mostly legitimate, but Somali Rights, ideals, and interests are not center stage in regional and international geopolitical circles since there are significant irreconcilable foreign and ideological policies among the state and non-state actors involved in the conflict. In addition to abrasions from its deep historical, imperial, and colonial encounters, Somalia in general, and The Somaliland in particular, is facing potentially vast injuries from modern contentions for its natural resources.

The fierce competition among external actors for the business of the allegedly untapped maritime and territorial hydrocarbon resources perpetuates the confrontations in Somalia. Even though it lacks popular legitimacy and has limited monopoly on violence, the government wants to engage energy companies Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Chevron, Conoco, Amoco, and Phillips, among many others, in oil production. It has also begun discussions with British Petroleum, Soma Oil, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), and PetroQuest Africa (Liberty Petroleum). Similarly, local authorities entered into oil exploration agreements with oil and gas corporations. Somaliland, not to be confused with The Somaliland, began working with Jacka Resources, Ophir Energy, Genel Energy, Ras Al Khaimah Gas Company, and DNO International. Puntland developed relations with Range Resources, Canmex Minerals (Africa Oil Corp), and Horn Petroleum. Galmudug developed an agreement with PetroQuest Africa (Liberty Petroleum). Jubaland and the newly formed Southwest State have not learned the hydrocarbon ropes yet. Matters are even further complicated with the inadequacy of Somalia’s military and security sector capabilities.

The security for the offices of the tradition-based, un-separated and exclusive powers of the Presidency / Executive, Judiciary, and Parliament is provided by the forces of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) which cannot replace its National Armed Forces in guaranteeing security for the exploitation of national resources. AMISOM was created in haste in Addis Ababa in March 2007 to provide cover for international diplomatic sanctions against Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia. The International Community, primarily comprising of the United Nations (UN), the EU, the United States (US), and the AU, communicate their support for the restoration of sovereignty of Somalia on the one hand. Some members of these international institutions prefer and recommend, on the other hand, that Somalia should rebuild its military through the joint works of “Peace Trinity” (modeled after the Holy Trinity) among internal stakeholders, regional powers (primarily Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia), and the international community. The legitimacy of the nation-state and those of the wider political community of The Somaliland should as a principle originate from the wishes of the commoner and should be assured through policy frameworks developed via open and effective institutions and infrastructures advancing self-determination, justice, equality, freedom, and democracy. But, yearnings, and universal demands, for free and fair elections are fiercely opposed by imminent coalition groups. The objective of holding peaceful and transparent national elections in 2016 faces tough opponents and milestones. But most importantly, the government’s delay in developing and implementing Somali-owned national policies, institutions, and sustainable national security systems for the restoration of full sovereignty may cause grave consequences that can lead initially to monotonic political deadlocks and erratic submissions to external state or non-state actors, but ultimately to permanent dissolution or annexation.


[1] This material is protected by copyright laws. Print publications and web sites are granted permission to publish this paper but only in its pdf format and with proper attribution defined as the use of the title “Somalia: A Gateway or a Gauntlet? Ancient & New External Actors, By Dr. Udub M. Mukhtar”.

[2] In this research, The Somaliland, The Somaliland Empire, Somali-Speaking Territory, Somaliya (with a Y), and The Somali Peninsula, are used interchangeably to refer to the entire Somali-speaking territories in the Horn of Africa, and Somalia is used to denote the territory of the failed and formerly independent Republic of Somalia.

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