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Norway’s Oil Agenda in Somalia

Despite a national image of support to peace and development worldwide, a central agenda of Norway in Somalia for over a decade has entailed methodical maneuvering to control petroleum resources. Norwegian aid and political engagement have often masked deeper interests in offshore oil in Somali waters and in the disputed triangle bordering Kenya’s coast.

The current ongoing case between Somalia and Kenya at the International Court of Justice has illuminated one aspect of this history. The now infamous Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), concluded between the Kenyan Foreign Minister and Somali Planning Minister in April 2009, and subsequently rejected by the Somali Parliament, had been drafted by Norwegian Ambassador on Special Mission, Mr. Hans Wilhelm Longva. The signing ceremony in Nairobi was witnessed by him and Ms. Rina Kistmoen from the Embassy of Norway in Nairobi. The MOU favoured Kenya’s position on the boundary line and it committed the signatories to a negotiated settlement rather than a court judgment regarding the status of the triangle, where Kenya had licensed Norway’s state-funded Statoil company (block L26).

The MOU had been signed as the newly formed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) faced the outbreak of hostilities when Islamist armed groups Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam launched a joint offensive in Mogadishu. There had been considerable political jockeying over composition of the Government for several months in the wake of the Djibouti peace process, which established the TFG at the beginning of 2009 and which had been largely funded by Norway through the United Nations.

Support to a peace process and an oil interest were inherently linked. Exploitation of a resource required clear political and security arrangements. Throughout, Norway maintained relevant political alliances in the TFG, at the time notably with then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Fisheries and Marines, Abdirahman Aden Ibrahin Ibbi, who oversaw TFG negotiated agreements, including the MOU.

Delimitation of Somali territorial waters and the sea boundary with Kenya—and therefore the fate of Statoil’s block L26—was wrapped up with the nature of Somalia’s declaration of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) pursuant to the Law of the Sea Convention. This issue had a complicated history in Somalia, extending back to before the collapse of the state. Under the guise of development assistance, Norway pursued an agenda to force the EEZ issue. On the surface seemingly out of context, and at Norway’s insistence, the Final Communiqué of the International Contact Group on Somalia in September 2011 in Copenhagen encouraged the TFG to declare an EEZ in a paragraph on piracy.

In increasingly direct language, the EEZ became a feature of such final communiqués. At the February 2012 London Conference, the Communiqué called on the TFG to adopt an EEZ for the effective use of Somali coastal waters, again in a section on piracy. At the working level, Norway and the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) lobbied Somali politicians and parliamentarians to declare an EEZ, but without success. In its 2013 report, the UN’s Monitoring Group described Norway’s conflicts of interest surrounding the EEZ.

With the end of the transitional period in Somalia in 2012 and the election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed, Norway needed to reconstitute an alignment with the new political dispensation. It did so through the establishment in December 2012 of a Special Financing Facility (SFF) with $30 million for a President in need of direct financing. Offered by then Minister for International Development, Heikki Eidsvol Holmås, who was related to Statoil’s Vice-President of Operations, the source of the funding was soon believed by diplomats to be originating in Statoil itself. Norway would deny this, but soon scrambled to find in its development finance streams $30 million that had not been earmarked. This ultimately caused delays in disbursement of the SFF funds.

In a newly emerging set of relations with Somalia, Norwegian Development Minister Holmås collaborated with Norway’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations, Geir Pedersen—appointed this year by UN Secretary-General António Guterres as his Special Envoy for Syria—and Jens Mjaugedal, the Norwegian Special Envoy for Somalia. Mjaugedal had previously been Director of International Cooperation for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and his new appointment had been supported by Pederson. His protégé and Somalia Country Director for NRC was none other than Somalia’s current Prime Minister, Hassan Khaire, a Norwegian citizen.

The design of the SFF and much of its later implementation was undertaken by a private entity, the Nordic International Support Foundation (NISF), formerly headed by Jens Mjaugedal. As the SFF was in its infancy in early 2013, Mjaugedal asked President Hassan Sheikh to request the UN Secretary-General to appoint him as the Special Representative for the new UN Mission for Somalia (UNSOM) that was replacing the older political office. Hassan Sheikh quickly learnt that Britain had already secured the position in anticipation of the signing of the Soma oil deal months later in August 2013. Meanwhile, Hassan Khaire was on track to becoming a shareholder in the Soma oil deal as well.

The country representative in Somalia for NISF was Abdisaid Muse Ali, today’s National Security Adviser and close associate of Hassan Khaire. Ostensibly the third party monitor for the SSF expenditures—costing a dollar in monitoring for a dollar spent—consisted of individuals from PricewaterhouseCoopers in Oslo. Due to security risks in Mogadishu, the group was incorporated separately as the company Abyrint, which would have a disgraced exit from the public financial management sector in Somalia in the years that followed.

As Khaire assumed his role as Prime Minister and the lead on national oil matters, he included a number of Norwegian-Somali advisers in his office and ministers in the Cabinet including the permanent secretary to the ministry of petroleum  Karar Shukri Dhoomey who was close associate to Khaire Recently, he managed to appoint a Norwegian-Somali, formerly with the NRC, to the key position of Governor of the Central Bank of Somalia. Meanwhile, NISF and NRC networks now extend into UN agencies, including the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in Mogadishu.

At present, competition for petroleum resources in Somalia is heating up and threatens regional security. Will Norway continue to use political and development levers to secure its oil interests in the country and contribute to destabilization? To maintain alignment with the Federal Government, will it seek to influence Somalia’s upcoming elections? A troubled track record has led Norway to undertake a review of its engagement in Somalia in the last decade. It is sure to find that Norway has been far from the impartial actor it pretends to be and it has not acted in the interest of the Somali people or their neighbours.

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