The recent decision by the Somaliland administration to grant oil exploration rights to foreign companies is set to spark a conflict between the country and neighboring Puntland. The regions of Sool and Sanaag were passed for exploration by Norwegian Oil Company DNO and Turkish Oil Company Genel.

The verdict however did not go down well with authorities in the state of Puntland. Abdirahman Mohamed Farole, Puntland’s president, warned of ‘consequences’ in Somaliland administration’s pursuit for oil exploration in Sool and Sanaag regions. President Farole gave the keynote address at a celebratory event held at Puntland State House in Garowe marking 15 years since Puntland’s statehood was founded in 1998.

Local communities in Sool and Sanaag share kinship and political ties with Puntland. Somaliland on the other hand claims the regions based on defunct colonial-era boundaries. Puntland and Somaliland have fought sporadic battles since 2002 over control of territory with the epicenter of the conflict being at Las Anod, capital of Sool region.
“Somaliland is creating conflict in the region. Somaliland cannot give land to foreign companies to explore oil when the land does not belong to Somaliland,” said President Farole.

The Puntland leader said that dialogue process in Istanbul between Somali Federal Government and Somaliland can succeed through consultation among “all of Somalia”. He thus insisted that Somaliland’s administration should ‘stay within its area’ until a federal and united Somalia is restored.
President Farole seems to be ticked by what he terms as a rainbow alliance between Mogadishu and Hargeisa that skips Garowe, Puntland’s capital.

Conflict claims were echoed by the UN Monitoring Group report released July 2013. The report noted concern about regional stability over oil exploration programs in northern Somalia managed by Somaliland and Puntland.
According to the UN report western commercial oil exploration in the disputed areas and discrepancies over which authorities can issue licenses to companies could spark further conflict in the Horn of Africa.

Around a dozen companies, including many multinational oil and gas majors, had licenses to explore Somalia before 1991, but since then Somaliland and Puntland and other regional authorities have granted their own licenses for the same blocks.
In some cases Somaliland and Puntland have awarded licenses for blocks that overlap. The experts said one such case involves Norwegian oil firm DNO and Canadian-listed Africa Oil Corp.

“Potentially, it means that exploration operations in these blocks, conducted by both DNO and Africa Oil under the protection of regional security forces, its allied militia or private forces, could generate new conflict between Somaliland and Puntland,” the UN report said.

By Benson Muriithi

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