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Since Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland began drilling for oil in Dharoor valley in January of this year, local opposition has been escalating as many believe the project, supported by western oil companies, will result in clan conflicts and have a negative environmental impact. In an effort to understand the facts behind the growing unrest, Somalia Report interviewed local residents, elders and Puntland officials.
Chief (Aqil) Abdirizak Hussein Saciid, a traditional elder and resident in Dharoor valley in Puntland's Bari region, said his clan is against the drilling by Africa Oil's Horn Petroleum mainly because officials failed to fully consult with them prior to the commencement of drilling. Furthermore, they told Somalia Report, they have not yet been told how the operation will benefit people in the region.
"A large number of people here do not want our brothers and sisters in the region to be confused because the leaders did not explain the process or for them to be upset because they did not get a job," said Mr. Abdirizak Hussien.
Osman Mohamud Yussuf, a local resident in rural area near Isku-Shuban district of Bari region, explained how they found out about the drilling, "I’m from Ismael Saleiman (a sub-clan of Majerteen) and we live in Isku-Shaban near Dharoor valley, and I am one of the elders who were previously unaware of the drilling. Nobody consulted us, and yet we live here. We heard about this operation after we saw a lot of cars carrying equipment as well as blacked out cars that are not normally around here. We were very worried about who these people were using the road between Bosaso and Dharoor," said the resident.
"We finally asked the Puntland government what they were doing and they told us they are going to drill here and build pipelines. They plan to push us out because they don't want anyone living here. We believe all the trees are going to die. Many problems need to be resolved such as water. People dying for lack of water and we worry the oil companies will use our scare water," he added.
Yasiin Farah Odowa, a traditional elder in district of Dharoor, explained the impact the oil has had on local livestock.
"After they started the big machines, our livestock and camels who are near it ran away from the area. A lot of our camels have broken their legs when the fled in fear as a result of the machines. This is very bad for us," said the elder.
The elder suggests that others had been bribed to refrain from expressing their opposition to the oil drilling.
"The Puntland government did speak to some elders and gave them money. They told the elders to pretend they were supporting the operation, but this was just misleading," said Mr. Odowa.
Bare Mohamud, a student of Puntland State University in Garowe who spoke to Somalia Report, said that this is not the time for elders to disagree over the drilling.
"My advice to the elders is this: be patient and support the government in developing our region. My advice to the government is this: please, you are our leaders so try to calm everyone so that they understand and agree with process," said the student.
Abdirizak Gantal Ahmed, a Puntland Petroleum security officer in Dharor, said the elders were creating a propaganda campaign.
"We have been discussing this with the locals for a very long time. This was not surprise to them. In fact, we have not even heard about these complaints until now," Mr. Gantal told Somalia Report.
Ahmed Yassin Farah, a businessman from Dishiishe (sub clan of darod) in Jurile, 30km away from Dharor valley who spoke to Somalia Report, said Africa Oil made a big mistake by speaking with some clans and not the others. They also cannot manage their security, referring to two incidents where Africa Oil convoys were attacked, and blamed water rights for the source of conflict.
"Africa Oil's employee refused to pay a driver who brought water. I was surprised because if the company refused to pay those local businesses, what kind of money should they give us after drilling when it is a lot more money? Puntland refused to talk with the clans that reside along the borders of the oil drilling site including Dishiish (sub clan of Darod), Ismael Saleiman (sub clan of Majerten) and Ugaar Saleiman (sub clan of Majerten). I really believe this process will not work out," complained Mr. Farah.
When Somalia Report contacted President Farole's office about the incident, an official denied locals were not paid, but he refused to go on record.
Meanwhile, government officials, in an earlier interview with Somalia Report, explained that the money will be reinvested into the local community.
"Many jobs will be offered to Somalis and funds from the project will be reinvested into Puntland's social services and infrastructure including roads, airports, sea ports, and security facilities," Puntland Petroleum Director Issa Mohamud Farah (Dhollowa) told Somalia Report.
He added that the responsibility for the security of the operation, its employees and equipment will be the responsibility of the Puntland government, which will utilize local police and the Darawish forces. "There will be no other security forces that will come into Puntland for this operation. We will not accept other security to intervene in our country," said Mr. Issa.
However many people believe that the oil drilling exercise in Puntland will create conflict between clans as it happened in 2006 when the government tried to explore oil and mining in Majiyahan, 35km south of Bosaso, without consulting the locals. The ensuing fight lead to the death of 30 people and forged the impetus for the creation of Sheikh Mohamed Said Atom's militia in the Galgala mountains.
In addition to local elders, the newly formed political association Golaha Samatabixinta Puntland (GPS, or the Puntland Rescue Committee), also voiced their strong opposition to the project in an earlier interview with Somalia Report.
While Somalia Report's calls and emails to Horn Petroleum and Africa Oil went unreturned, Somali chat forums are actively voicing their opinions.