U.S-China battle over the Ogaden Basin, different powers emerge to play in the same old field

Tuesday October 06, 2015 - 00:01:40 in Articles by Super Admin
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    U.S-China battle over the Ogaden Basin, different powers emerge to play in the same old field

    Waagacusub.net - Oil and gas rich Ogaden region borders Somalia, Kenya and the tiny Eastern African state of Djibouti. Ogaden, home to 7-8 Million ethnic Somalis and is twice the size of England and Wales together has been ravaged by famine, drought

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Photo:Ahmed Abdi is a freelance journalist and Horn of Africa Researcher, specialising Ethiopia
Waagacusub.net - Oil and gas rich Ogaden region borders Somalia, Kenya and the tiny Eastern African state of Djibouti. Ogaden, home to 7-8 Million ethnic Somalis and is twice the size of England and Wales together has been ravaged by famine, droughts, tribal strife, mass refugees movements and successive wars between Ethiopian regimes and Independent movements as well as the epicenter of the Horn of Africa's cold-war hotspot for the United States and former Soviet Union.
The regional administration of Ogaden was arbitrarily transferred from British Colonial to the Ethiopian expansionist, Haile Selassie, under the U.S influence in 1954. 
The Ogaden region has its own political leaders, Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), that have been trying to take the case of Ogaden to the International community, The United Nations , the World Powers and stakeholders and has Military wing, Ogaden National Liberation Army (ONLA) that fights to defend the regions's natural resources and took the decision of waging a long and bloody fight to achieve an independent state in Ogaden.

In June 2007's Obale raid, which Ogaden National Liberation Army killed more than 75 Ethiopian oil-field guards and 9 Chinese Petroleum engineers from Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau (ZPEB) was an embarrassment to Tigray-led Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDFs). The company refrained from any illegal activities in Ogaden since then. 

However, that incident brought the World's attention to the forgotten war and Ethiopian atrocities in the Ogaden region. Several Journalists including New York Time's Jeffrey Gentleman and two Swedish Journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson entered into Ogaden to expose human rights abuses and help those in the West and elsewhere to know the real news in the Ogaden region. 
However, all of them became a target for the Tigray-led regime of Ethiopia. Mr. Gentleman and his colleagues were briefly arrested, their equipment had confiscated before their release and eventually expelled from the region. Mr. Schibbye and Mr. Persson were injured and then served 434 days in the notorious Kaliti  Prison, 434 days that attracted the title of their new book which has been published both in Swedish and English languages and opened the eyes of millions that never heard of the case of the Ogaden and TPLF's human rights abuses under "Anti-Terrorism proclamation".
U.S-China Battle over the Ogaden Basin

Driven by economic and increasing thirsty for energy rather than their ideological differences, U.S and China battle over the Ogaden oil and fields have recent escalated after China and U.S owned oil-corporations signed memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Tigray People Liberation Front or TPLF-dominated regime in Addis Ababa on separate occasions between January 8, 2014, and November 10, 2014.  

The U.S based African infrastructure development company of Black Rhino started to contain the Chinese PL GCL Petroleum Investment Limited, which had reached an agreement with the Tigray-ruled Ethiopian government to extract oil and gas from Ogaden region on November 16, 2013. 

Both U.S and China Oil and Gas companies knew that the landlocked Ethiopia needs a port to fulfill its grasping endeavors to exploit the natural resources that are under the territory of the rebel and anti-Ethiopian local control, Hilale and Calub, situated 120 kilometers South Eastern of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Djibouti President Ismail Omar said that his small country will provide any assistance if the dream to construct a pipeline stretching from Ogaden basin to the Red Sea state's port to the EU markets came true. 

China owned PLY GCL Petroleum investment Limited, signed an agreement with Djibouti to construct a pipeline to transport natural gas from the Occupied-Ogaden to Djibouti through Dire Dawa, just West of the Ogaden. 
Under the agreement, China would build two airports for Djibouti and New electric railway that will connect Addis Ababa to Djibouti and nothing for the local people in Ogaden due to the insecurity on the ground or China's lack of interest to help where its real interests lie, of course, Somali ethnic population that owns the promising Ogaden oil field in the region.
Meanwhile, according to African Intelligence, Delonex Energy, a new company backed by U.S investment group Warburg Puncus, has announced its first licence award , taking blocks 18, 19, and 21 in the Eastern parts of Ogaden region. Covering 29 865m2 in the ferfer region of the Ogaden basin. 
On  May 6, 2014, United States President Barack Obama invited Djibouti's dictator Ismail Omar Guelleh to the White House aimed to discuss with the China's interaction to the small East African State of Djibouti. President Obama pledged $80 Million U.S dollar annually to Ismail Omar Guelleh to help U.S companies invest in Horn of Africa especially Ogaden Basin.
Djibouti-Ethiopia Relationship

The relationship between Ethiopia and Djibouti-based on suspicion and alert from Djibouti side and intimidation from the side of Ethiopia ever since Somalia's central government collapsed in 1991 and the regional balance of Power lost there. 
Djibouti and Ethiopia do not have a good history together as Ethiopia has always been trying to annex the tiny state that situates a strategic location on Earth, the mouth of the Red Sea. The interest of Ethiopia to Djibouti grew when a new nation, Eritrea emerged as Africa's newest Independent nation in the 1990s. It is not clear whether Ethiopia wants to annex Djibouti or not but  a dozen of vessels belonging to Ethiopia registered internationally as Djibouti-Ethiopian vessels. Ethiopian politicians of TPLF proposed to Djibouti government a political unification between Djibouti and Ethiopia which they have yet to agree.  In 2011, hundreds of Djibouti people held a peaceful demonstration in front of the Stade National El-Hadj Hassan Gouled Aptidon to show how they disagree Guelleh's constitutional dictatorship without most of the World aware of it and/or without good press coverage or headlines. At least two people died and several protesters were injured, opposition leaders were briefly imprisoned after Guelleh's Security police arrived and turned the peaceful demonstration to nasty one by using live ammunition to quell the peaceful demonstrators. 
Exploiting this chance and Djibouti's geopolitical conflict with Eritrea, Ethiopia intimidated President Ismail Omar Guelleh and pressed him to extradite more than 100 Somalis from occupied-Ogaden region to Ethiopia. The operation of arresting and presenting Ogadenis to the Ethiopia took place on January 20, 2011. Djibouti Special police, who were receiving orders from Ethiopian Embassy conducted the operation of arresting and presenting them to the Embassy staff and Ethiopian Colonels such as Col. Meleku. Among of those extradited were dual Ogadeni-Djibouti citizens. Several of them died after severe torture by the hands of the prison guards in Jail Ogaden, while others were released after serving 4-years in prison. 
Ethiopian Embassy in Djibouti offered in return to help families that lost their loved-ones in the hands of the Eritrean soldiers following after the Eritrea-Djibouti border skirmish. The Embassy told Djibouti families and Ogadeni spies that ONLF fighters jumping like a frog were fighting alongside the Eritrean border guards, an statement circulated among the Djibouti population that put at risk hundreds of Ogadenis that had lived and worked in Djibouti after Ethiopian propaganda got out of the Embassy.
"Multinationals fled Ogaden oil fields "

Yemen Over the last five years, the Ogaden Basin has been attracting the attention of the International Petroleum Corporations and a number of firms filed requests to explore oil and gas in Ogaden oil and gas industrial, including Tullow Oil, Delonex Energy Limited, SouthWest Energy, Pexco Exploration , Petronas, Africa Oil Corp, Lundin Petroleum , Afar Explorer, (U.S), among others. Most of them opted to leave the region due to the political instability in the region and security for their personnel may have contributed their decisions, however, several China Petroleum corporations including GCL-Poly Petroleum Investments ignored warnings issued by the ONLF.

 " A pipeline connecting the restive South Eastern region of Ogaden to the port of Djibouti to export gas mainly to Europe,was already under way, "Chinese Poly Technology Company Vice President Huang Geming said in a statement.

" For the time being, a Chinese firm (GCL-Poly Petroleum Investments) is carrying out activities on the Calub and Hilala reserves," Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn  said. "In the next two years, we plan to start exporting and using the natural gas from these areas."


GCL-Poly Petroleum Investments will fund the pipeline that will transport the Ethiopia's Ogaden gas to Djibouti for a total cost of more than $4 billion,of which $3 billion will be invested in the Djibouti section,"

said Mohamed Nour, a communications adviser at Djibouti's energy ministry. 

Petroleum Investments Experts say, "there is no commercial viability without a political solution in the Ogaden region. Not that far when the ONLF attacks the oil and gas field workers, Ethiopia blames Eritrea without hesitatingly. Because the independent movements ,ONLF, reiterated that it will not allow the resources to be exploited without political stability in the region and the ONLF believes that the Ethiopian regime has failed " to resolve the conflict in the Ogaden in a just way peacefully or through a negotiated settlement."

Ethiopia is set to be a natural gas producer  by 2018, pumping about 40 billion gallons annually, according to Mr. Geming. In may 2012, the Late Ethiopian dictator, Meles Zenawi, declared that Ethiopia would pump up gas out of the Ogaden in one year's time. That didn't happen. 


According to Wikipedia entry, the first exploration in the basin was undertaken by Standard Oil in 1920[2]  More recent exploration by Tenneco resulted in the discovery of an estimated 68 million cubic metres (2.4 billion cubic feet) of gas in 1974.[2]


China proposed to establish its own military base in O'bock , Djibouti near Bab al-Mandab straight, the strategic southern entrance to the Red Sea and the gateway to the Suez Canal. China understands the void of the Horn's old client ,Russia, and the importance of the Horn in terms of penetrating the Continent throughout Somalia's territorial waters, however, China is pursuing the same approach that led the failure of the Soviet Union instead of establishing itself a permanent position on the Indian and the Red Sea. China failed in Libya and South Sudan and will likely fail if it does not put all its efforts with Somalia and Somali speaking populations in the Horn amid to participate in the recourse of a strong central Somali government in Mogadishu. China will then have the upper hand and have a chance to avail its health and strong relationship with Somalis in the Horn, in doing so, it will get abundant natural resources including the country's untapped oil and gas reserves if she needs to be a superpower. 


Saudi Arabia and Israel met to discuss a number of international issues and they revealed that they had been in secret discussions for a year. In the discussion, they stated their interest in regard of the Ogaden oil and gas in Eastern parts of Occupied-Ogaden. Anwar Eshki, a retired major general in the Saudi armed forces, said in his speech about the Middle East and the Horn of Africa on June 4, 2015 that the Ogaden basin will unite the Horn of Africa under the Ethiopia" (TPLF leadership). 

The source further said that Saudi Ben Laden Group could build a bridge across the Red Sea linking Yemen to Djibouti.Israel and Saudi would then be able to exploit the natural reserves in Ogaden."


Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have failed to learn the hostilities between the Somali ethnic population in Occupied-Ogaden and Ethiopian highlanders from Tigray and Amhara, an historical enmity that goes back the years of the Somali Adal Empire and Abyssinia's Aksumite Empire     (14th Century-16th century). The book of "Futuh Al-Habasha: The Conquest of Abyssinia" would open their eyes if they wanted to learn the history of the Horn of Africa and the Ogaden region crisis.

Human rights abuses in the Ogaden region

The massacres in the Ogaden have been described as "genocide" by the Genocide Watch. Rights Groups the likes, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accuse Ethiopia of heinous crimes and human rights violations in its military operation in the Horn of Africa's Ogaden region. The government denied the allegations yet unwilling to collaborate with a fact-finding Mission from the UN Human Rights body on its research for the human rights abuses allegedly committed by its soldiers stationed in Ogaden region. 
Over the last seven years, the Ethiopian government has initiated a genocidal campaign against the Ogadeni civilian population. The Ethiopian Defense Forces are using a systematic policy of intimidation, rape, assault and detention and deportation against Ogadeni civilians. Ten of thousands of people have fled to refugee camps in Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Yemen. 
According to the Genocide watch, The Ethiopian Army's counter-insurgency campaign in Ogaden has included numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Ethiopian government's policy in Ogaden is to suppress all demands  for autonomy from Ogadenis. It has included gradual stationary of the population in IDP Camps-a policy Genocide Watch calls Genocide by attrition. 
The army has imposed an economic blockade on many towns and villages in the Ogaden. The government has restricted access of water, food and other necessities. Food is being used as a weapon of war. Massacres, torture, rape and disappearances are prevalent in the Ogaden region. Women and children are the most vulnerable groups to suffer abuses and violence. They are accused of being relatives of ONLF members. Thousands of people have been arrested without any charges and held in the notorious prisons in Ethiopia and Jail Ogaden particularly. 

The TPLF-led regime imposed a ban on all international media and most of the aid workers including International Red Cross and doctors without borders had expelled the region. 

The regime arrested and detained dozens of people that their relatives  are outside of Ogaden. The Security forces ordered their return or they will remain in custody. Ethiopia executed catholic priests , subjugated Sidamas, Gambellas, Afars, Benishanguls and more than 40 million Oromos. Despite all these, it is silenced and never discussed the war and human rights violations in Ogaden and other places publicly. 

Mass refugees movements and UNHCR's involvement to support them

Hundreds of thousands fled from Ogaden region for the result of the forgotten war in Ogaden region. Dhabaab, Kenya alone hosts 100, 000 Ogadenis that fled from the war-torn region of Ogaden. Among of them are protracted refugees that UNHCR has been feeding since the 80s.  While hundreds of them live in a number of other refugee camps in East Africa including Djibouti's Ali-Addeh,  Eritrea's Emkulu Camp, among others. It is six decades conflict that the United Nations has failed to solve and even its humanitarian arm, UNHCR Yemen is wondering how to help several hundred Ogadeni political refugees currently caught up in the Yemen conflict to get a safer place. 

According to the Director of the Royal African Society, Richard Dowden, in 1991 and 1992, The UN Refugee Agency did nothing for the Ogadeni refugees that found themselves in Ethiopia after they had escaped from their camps in Somalia-where they sought refuge during the Somalia -Ethiopia war over the control of  the Ogaden in 1977-78. The UN allowed Ogadeni refugees mostly women and children to die in its camps inside Ethiopia's Ogaden region after the Derg regime rejected to accept them as "classified returnees" because of their Somali ethnicity -making among the highest ever recorded death rate. That incident did at least result in a change of the UNHCR mandate.
The scenario is the same, UNHCR's protection counselling office in Sana'a sees  considerable security threats for the lives of Ogadenis and others amid at Saudi-led bombardment and economic sanctions. Moreover, the office wanted to provide cash assistance to those lost their jobs since last March despite under-funding and to expedite dozens of families that referred to U.S, EU, Canada and Australia. Sweden and France were able to take in several families  since last March.
Even though, the UN office managed to contribute one time food-aid to some of the urban refugees in Sana'a last month since March , the humanitarian Agency needs to open its doors and build trust in terms of giving solace or receiving applications from those in dire straits that wanted to talk to UNHCR for the purpose of : Following up on their cases, reporting a protection problem, seeking material and medical assistance or to those willing to be considered their cases for resettlement since they could not return to their homelands due to well-founded fear of persecution and their hosted nation of Yemen is on war. 

Both UNHCR Senior Officials based in Geneva and Aden aware of those hundred Ogadeni families in Kharez Camp-registered with the UN as refugees from Somalia-but have a different status. Among of them are survivors from the little known Banbalaayo massacres of 1991 and 1992. As a source from Rebecca Hinchey's research titled,  "Ogaden- A state of Decay" reads:  "Banbalaayo, roughly translated means 'desert of hell'- thousands of Ogaden refugees-mostly women and children died in Hiiraan Province, South of Somalia when their camp came under attack, the Ogadenis showered with thousands of bullets. Many fell to the ground, died or dying, Those that did not try to run but their only option was to cross the river behind them. Only a few were able to swim. Some men survived, but almost all the women and children drowned."  The resumption of that past experience is one of their main concerns now. Dozens of families displaced in Sana'a and other parts of Yemen while others are wandering throughout Yemen. 

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