Since the start of the Arab Spring, the gas-rich Persian Gulf state of Qatar has been extending its reach across the Greater Middle East. The tiny state, whose citizenry only numbers around 250,000 individuals, began its foray into regional politics with the overthrow of Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi. Since then, Qatar has financed a rebellion in Syria and sweet-talked the Hamas administration of Gaza into its corner with a $400 million pledge.
Earlier this week, a lauded trip to the Qatari capital of Doha by Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud prompted intrigue and worry across Somalia. The agenda of the meetings was kept quiet enough to require even further inquiry by Somalis, leaving a trail of money, oil, and more mystery.
Qatar was a primary financial supporter of former Somali president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, and Qatar is also suspected to have bought the September 2012 election for Mohamud, who comes from the same clan as his predecessor and purports to hold an Islamist orientation similar to Sharif Ahmed. Many Somalis are wondering what Qatar is gets in return from these backdoor deals, because it can’t simply be about them favoring a particular clan of Somali Islamists over other Somali Islamists. The Qatari involvement in Mogadishu goes far beyond local clan politics. Qatar, and its allies, are trying to create profitable outcomes.
Ex-president Sharif Ahmed set up an oil team during his term, and the current administration has kept it in place. It includes Abdullahi Haider serving as senior adviser to the regime. In October last year, Haider stated to Reuters that all energy contracts setup by regional administrations “are null and void,” even though the Somali Constitution grants regions full rights to negotiate resource contracts as they wish. Sharif Ahmed also appointed a British-based legal advisory team called Norton Rose LLP to handle natural resources acquisitions. Norton Rose is also the advisory team of Qatar Shipping and Qatar Navigation companies, which are owned in part by the Qatari royal family, as well as the state-owned Qatar Investment Authority, which holds over $60 billion in assets.
Qatar is the bridge that connects Norton Rose’s role in the governments of Mohamud and Sharif, and that Norton Rose played a key role in preparing Somalia’s petroleum policy and establishing a state oil company for the fledgling regime. But why? The Qatar Investment Authority is a stakeholder in Royal Dutch Shell, and the Qataris went on a major spending spree on 2012 (just before the historic Somali elections) and bought millions of more shares, making them the biggest shareholders in the company.
To make things easier for himself, Mohamud appointed his half-brother’s nephew as the natural resources minister, and since then Shell has gotten more aggressive, even going as far as to enforce a quiet monopoly on the nation’s oil and gas, virtually shutting new exploration firms out of the country. This was evidenced when a British exploration company LGE Monsoon was locked out of a deal in the small federal state of Galmudug. Only a month later, Shell sent a warning to the US-based exploration company American Liberty Petroleum Corporation about its attempts to acquire the same acreage in Galmudug. The day after the Shell threats in Galmudug, neighboring Puntland State made a press release on the fragility of the Somali Constitution and the threats it faces from the regime of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
Some of Shell’s energy licenses in Somalia are located in areas disputed by the federal subject of Puntland and the separatist state of Somaliland. This leads us to inquire if Conoco-Phillips, which is a major player in Qatari exploration, is pushing Qatar to involve itself in the political developments in Somalia. Earlier this week, aSomaliland-based Somali-language website stated that Qatar would be mediating talks between Somalia and its separatist enclave of Somaliland.
Qatar’s recently-groomed allies in Turkey have been engaged in an open [and distastefully boastful] intervention in Somalia for the past year, which has allowed Qatar to work diligently behind the scenes. This also explains why the Qataris haven’t been complaining at all about Turkey’s growing influence in Somalia, as opposed to the dismayed Saudis who have become so concerned about losing their share in Somalia’s potential riches that they’ve even studied and narrowed down the places they were eager to exploit and which they may now sit out on.
Is energy-starved Turkey eyeing [sic] opportunities offered by the prospective find of 10 billion barrels of crude oil in Somalia’s northeastern Puntland province? -Jamal Khashoggi via Al-Arabiya
It’s been rumored that during President Mohamud’s recent 3-day trip to Doha, he was given $135 million to push the Qatari-hatched agenda, which seems reasonable considering that Qatar pledged $400 million to Gaza, a region beseiged by Israel and thus unable to exploit its own resources with which it can repay the Qataris and their corporate allies.
Zainab Guleed, DN Contributor/Staff