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Editor's Pick

This week we look at NAI's Puntland Situation Report published in April 2020, covering a conflict in Shidan, a village in Sanaag. The region of Sanaag is contested by both Somaliland and Puntland. The conflict in Shidan was centered on land issues between two clans who have historically lived in the area. The land dispute wasn't about grazing but minerals in Shidan, specifically gold. The first conflict erupted in November 2019 where three people died. Elders from the two clans stepped in and even Somaliland authorities helped facilitate and agreement between the clans. But the conflict would re-erupt in April 2020 and a fragile peace was brokered. NAI warned that this would not last as the mediators did not attempt to create a lasting resource sharing agreement between the two sides. Furthermore we warned that Somaliland entering the mediation of conflict would likely taint it. Transforming it from one that was between neighboring clans to one that would take on sub-national connotations. Fast-forward less than a year later, conflict has erupted yet again in Shidan area. This time the connotations NAI warned about are in the open as elders have called on Puntland to do something about Somaliland's aggression in the area, meanwhile Somaliland has arrested 19 militia they said were captured in the clan conflict, indicating that it still has a heavy hand in what it deems 'arbitration'.  The call by elders for Puntland's support can further intensify the conflictual relationship between Somaliland and Puntland this time centering it around mineral resources. This would likely ramp up the dormant conflict over regional jurisdiction and could further destabilize a region that has already been ravaged by violent extremism, environmental degradation and clan conflict.  Our 2020 report provides contextual background and analysis on mining in the region and warns peace-builders and stakeholders who work in the area about the potentiality of this conflict intensifying. Unfortunately NAI's calls on stakeholders to address the conflict in its early stages were not heeded.

Our publications iteratively contextualize sociopolitical, economic and environmental events in Somalia to understand how they positively or negatively impact development and contribute to conflictual relationships. This is done to equip development agencies and practitioners with the necessary contextual analysis needed to improve or adapt their programming in these areas. 

Read our report below.  

4.1            Sanaag’s Gold Rush contributes to clan conflict

4.1.1        Key Developments: As previously reported, clan fighting in parts of eastern Sanaag region has been partly linked to speculation over the area’s potential mineral reserves. On Apr. 17, Puntland President Said Deni issued a presidential decree “suspending export” of metal and mineral resources in Puntland State of Somalia.[i] The letter, dated April 15, was sent to six Ministries and Puntland State Police Command.[ii] Speculation over alleged mineral deposits in eastern Sanaag region have contributed to clan conflicts for control of land and impacted social cohesion in the region for a number of years.  On Nov. 26, 2019, local media reported that at least 3 persons were killed in the mountain area of Sanaag region after two rival militias clashed over “gold” found in the area.[iii] Somaliland MP Abdiqadir Jama Hamud, speaking to the media a day after the clashes, said that the cause of the conflict was “mountains of gold”.[iv] Weeks later, on Jan. 15, 2020, a Puntland delegation was attacked at Ulheed village in eastern Sanaag region by unidentified gunmen and one of the delegation’s vehicles was burned.[v] The clan conflict erupted in November 2019; however, tensions over areas rumoured to contain mineral resources in Sanaag region have been boiling over since at least 2017. To make matters worse a sub-national dispute between Somaliland and Puntland has added a new contextual layer to a local conflict over land and resources.  

In 2017, Somaliland media reported about a ‘gold rush’ in a village northeast of Erigavo, capital of Sanaag region; the area is called Irshida in Sanaag region.[vi] The report goes on to say that the surrounding villages also became hubs for artisanal miners looking for gold. On Apr. 6, 2018, clan elder Boqor Mohamed Nuh Adan said in a press statement that the Somaliland government’s newfound interest in the area is due to the ‘gold deposits’ and stated that elders were in control of the mining trade in Irshida area, but claimed that it was ‘part of Somaliland’. On Jan. 19, 2019, a company called Tacab Wadaag began to dig for gold in an area near Erigavo.[vii] In a press conference, the Somaliland government’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources fully supported  mining in the Maydh areas of Sanaag region north of Erigabo. One day after mining began, elders from the area held a press conference stating that the company had begun mining for gold without consent of local communities and accused the company of attempting to evict people from their ancestral grazing lands.[viii] As the mining rush in the wider Sanaag region contined and the dispute over mining within Somaliland continued to develop, Sanaag region was also the epicentre for a new sub-national battleground between Puntland and Somaliland, with several troops allied to Somaliland defecting to Puntland in early 2019. Throughout that year, armed clashes between Somaliland and Puntland forces were frequent and have continued into 2020. As recently as Feb. 27 2020, local media reported that at least 8 soldiers were killed and 6 were wounded on both sides when Puntland and Somaliland forces clashed at Hadaaftimo town, in eastern Sanaag region.[ix] The fighting reportedly erupted after Somaliland forces attacked a Puntland army garrison. On Feb. 29, Puntland security minister Abdisamad Gallan accused Somaliland troops in Sanaag region of being “allied to Al Shabaab”, days after Puntland and Somaliland forces clashed in the region.[x]

4.1.2        Analysis: Sanaag region and the Golis Mountains that run through it have been reported to be mineral rich. Although the area has no history of major commercial gold exploration, the geology of the area consists of high-grade metamorphic rocks within a greenstone belt that are good indicators that the area contains gold.[xi] Furthermore, Sanaag region is also home to a long culture of artisanal mining that can be traced back for decades, with coal and gemstones being some of the mineral commodities mined in the area. Given the widely believed potential of the region, it was not unusual that reports of gold exploration by artisanal miners spurred a ‘gold rush’ in the area that garnered the attention of foreign companies.

Precious metals and minerals have been known to be a significant conflict driver in many African countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. Therefore, any approach to mining has to be cautious, inclusive and transparent. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recommends that companies sourcing minerals from conflict-affected areas “avoid contributing to conflict”.[xii] Responsible mining is the term used by OECD, but more often than not, that recommendation falls on deaf ears. Much like the case in Sanaag region. The elders in Maydh, who spoke out against a company backed by the Somaliland authority on natural resources signifies the delicateness of attempting to extract mineral resources in the region. It may also indicate more troubling factors, such as the lack of inclusivity and/ or transparency.

Puntland state has had a history with mining in the Golis Mountain area, specifically the Majiyahan area where the Puntland administration inked an agreement with Australian mining firm Range Resources for mineral extraction in 2005.[xiii] But the contract with the foreign company was not accompanied with a sustainable contract or agreement with local communities, and ultimately triggered local resistance in the form of clan militias. Years later, the remnants of that armed resistance gave rise to Mohamed Said Atom, who later became Al Shabaab faction leader in Galgala mountains of Puntland.[xiv] Insurgent groups exploited local grievances and established operating bases in mountain hideouts over the areas. Given the history of mining in Puntland, the Somaliland administration’s push for the commercialisation of gold deposits can have serious implications for wider peace and stability.

The dynamic is entirely different this time around. There are several different clans living within the area of the ‘gold rush’, and the local clans are allied to Somaliland and Puntland, almost by default. The fighting in November of last year and April signals that the internal dispute within Somaliland over mining has been eclipsed by the clan conflict over mining-rich areas between rival clans in the area. Arthur A. Stein found that external threats/conflicts indeed contribute to internal cohesion but that a number of factors needed to be present for this effect to be actualized.[xv] While rival clans battle for land believed to be mineral rich, the conflict situation in El Afweyn between two Somaliland allied clans continues to flare up. The clan conflict in El Afweyn is a destabilising factor impacting social cohesion in western Sanaag region and has caused issues for Somaliland authorities. On the other side clan conflict over minerals between clans that can be classifed as Somaliland and Puntland-allied clans indicates a worsening situation in the region, that can be captalized on elements who have their own selfish interests. Another more troubling layer of conflict is the sub-national conflict between Puntland and Somaliland, which continues to intensify. After an attack on a Puntland delegation in Badhan, 2019 saw unprecedented defection of troops once allied to Somaliland, defecting over to Puntland. The newly integrated Puntland troops hailing from the region of Sanaag have vowed to remove Somaliland forces from the region. However, the attack on the Puntland delegation alone likely did not trigger the major defection of Somaliland troops. During that period, Somaliland was facing a lot of internal strife with Col. Arre rebel militia still active and operating within eastern Sanaag areas. Furthermore, the ‘gold rush’ and local reservations with the Somaliland government’s management of the gold mining were ongoing, thus creating a multitude of reasons for soldiers to defect from Somaliland and ensure the protection of the local resources. However, since then, Col. Arre has agreed to disband his militia group and has handed over 600 equipped troops to Somaliland. How those troops will be integrated into the Somaliland army has not been expounded on. But as clan conflicts in the region intensify, over land and resource control, and if Col. Arre’s rebel militia are not fully integrated into the Somaliland army, some of these forces may find themselves persuaded to join the clan conflict over resources in Sanaag region.

Another layer to the conflict in Sanaag region is the proximity of mineral resources to Al Shabaab strongholds and the group’s possible intervention in the area. A week before clan fighting first erupted in Sanaag region, on Nov. 17, 2019, Al Shabaab announced that the group captured a small village at Gacan-Maroodi, about 50km southeast of Erigavo, a stronghold of Somaliland forces in Sanaag region.[xvi] According to residents, the Al Shabaab militants later left the village and there were no major security incidents. This was a very unusual development, as Al Shabaab have not been known to briefly occupy villages in such close proximity towards Somaliland forces. Whatever the group’s intentions, it signifies that Sanaag region is experiencing serious social fragmentation and an increase of insecurity stemming from a multitude of conflict drivers, and this renewed risk of major violence in the region requires committed peacebuilding efforts by all stakeholders.

4.1.1        Forecast: The conflict over gold and mineral resources in Sanaag region will likely not dissipate in the months to come. Furthermore, the risk of the ‘resource conflicts’ involving Puntland and Somaliland is likely, although the conflict would be shrouded in sub-national and clan-centric cover.  

References

[i]Said Deni issues order to ban resources secretly exported from Puntland. Retrieved from https://www.caasimada.net/saciid-deni-oo-amar-kasoo-saaray-kheyraad-si-qarsoodi-ah-looga-dhoofiyo-puntland/

[ii]President Deni bans mineral resources exported from Puntland. Retrieved from https://puntlandpost.net/2020/04/16/madaxweyne-deni-oo-joojiyay-macdantii-laga-dhoofin-jiray-gudaha-puntland/

[iii] Puntland Situation Report. NAI Somalia, Nov. 2019. Retrieved from www.naisomalia.com/

[iv] Somaliland MP Abdiqadir Jama Hamud press conference. Nov. 2019. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CyX9v36LzBo

[v] Puntland Situation Report, January 2020. Retrieved from www.naisomalia.com

[vi] Gold Rush in Sanaag Region. Retrieved from: https://burcoonline.com/articles/70924/GOBOLKA-SANAAG-OO-NOQDAY-GOBOLKA-DAHABKA-EE-SOMALILAND-QALINKII-MAXAMUUD-KHALIIF-AXMEDZAKIKHALIIF

[vii] A company called Ta’ab Wadaag begins mining in Sanaag region. Retrieved from: https://wargeyskadawan.com/2019/01/19/shirkad-lagu-magacaabo-tacab-wadaag-oo-hawlo-macdan-qodis-ah-ka-bilawday-gobolka-sanaag/

[viii]Elders vent concerns of a company mining gold in the mountains of Sanaag. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIvCFgi3slk

[ix] Tensions rise as Somaliland and Puntland troops attack each other in Sanaag region. Retrieved fromhttps://intelligencebriefs.com/tension-rise-as-somaliland-and-puntland-troops-attack-each-other-in-sanaag-region/

[x]Somaliland condemned for cooperating with Al Shabaab. Retrieved fromhttps://www.garoweonline.com/so/news/somaliland/somaliland-oo-laga-dhawaajiyey-in-ay-hor-gale-u-tahay-al-shabaab

[xi] Somalia’as gold potential/ Retrieved from: https://raregoldnuggets.com/?p=2075

[xii] OECD (2013),OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas: Second Edition, OECD Publishing. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264185050-en

[xiii] Markus V. Hoehne (July 2014), Resource conflict and militant Islamism in the Golis Mountains in northern Somalia (2006–2013)

[xiv] Ibid  

[xv] Arthur A. Stein (1976), Conflict and Cohesion: A Review of the Literature

[xvi]Shabaab moves into Somaliland town. Retrieved from https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2019/11/shabaab-moves-into-somaliland-town.php