For many years, Ethiopia and the predatory oil companies conspired against the people of SRS. They simply bypassed them when exploring their land. Ethiopia has never consulted with, sought the approval of, or respected the rights of the local people. It only wanted the resources but not the people. This has always been the case. If anything has changed as a result of the broader changes in Ethiopia is something to be seen.
On the other hand, SRS’s previous administrations were simply appendages of Addis Ababa. They lacked the ability or the willingness to bargain with their masters. Hence, they completely forfeited the rights of their people. The central government and oil companies plundered the region as they wished.
Since last year, however, the ruling system in Ethiopia somehow changed. So did the administration of SRS. Now, it is reasonable to ask what the regional government knows or can know about the oil and gas exploration and extraction activities underway in the region.
For starters, we know that Ethiopia enters agreements with numerous oil companies to carry out explorations in the region by awarding them different blocks in our land. What does the SRS government know about this? Is it consulted with? Is it part of the agreements? Does it have a say in the matter?
There are a number of oil companies currently operating in the region such as Poly-GCL, New Age, and South West Energy. Do we know where they operate? How many blocks does each company own? How many companies are currently operating in the region?
In addition to oil exploration, there are numerous rumors that these companies carryout mining activities in the region. There are tales of helicopters carrying white men landing in the middle of remote rural areas and collecting stones from the ground. Many people believe these companies collect minerals such as gold from those areas. What do we know about these claims? Do oil companies really steal our surface minerals? Are there undercover mining activities in the region?
Ethiopia enters concession agreements with the oil companies by giving them certain number of years to work in the region. Do we know how long is the concession agreement with each company? The most prominent company currently operating in the basin is Poly-GCL. What is the duration of the agreement with it? What about New Age, and South West Energy as well as others that we may not know? Do we know the terms of agreement with each company?
While carrying out operations, these companies recruit employees. Who benefits from this employment? Are local people given priority in employment? Do they provide employment benefits to the local community surrounding the sites of operations? (More on the employment issue in a later piece.)
The activities of these companies include destroying forests and cutting routes by clearing many kilometers of trees. What do we know about the extent of their impact on the already fragile environment? What is the impact of this deforestation on the lives of the local pastoralists?
The contracts between the central government and the oil companies contain production sharing agreements which specifies how the federal government and the producing companies share the profits. Are we consulted with about this? Are we part of the bargain? In addition, are there any sharing agreements between the central government and the SRS government?
The new administration in SRS has been in power for less than a year. And though it is still struggling to clean up the mess left by the previous tyrant regime, the above and many others are legitimate questions that every citizen of SRS may be asking.
As the primary stakeholders, we must have a decisive role in the exploitation of our resources. After all, it is our property in our land and under our feet. For so many years, we have been sidelined and bypassed. We have been considered irrelevant. We have been marginalized and ignored. This must not continue anymore.
The government of SRS has a primary responsibility to defend the rights of its people. After all, a government is the working agency of its people. We, the people, have the right to know what is being done to our land and the natural resources bestowed upon it. We cannot stand idly while our resources are plundered, looted, and unfairly exploited.
As a concerned citizen, I suggest the SRS government should take a number of steps.
First, a comprehensive historical study regarding the companies that have worked and are working in the region, their activities, where they work, and how long they will stay should be done. The study should include the whole exploration history of the region starting from the beginning. This is necessary for the public knowledge. Since we have been kept in the dark for a century and more, we have to know what happened to our resources for these long years.
Second, a comprehensive hydrocarbon map of Ogaden basin detailing the explored areas, the results of each exploration, the potential of each field should be made. The map should include all the blocks of the basin, the explored and unexplored ones, those with confirmed reserves and so on. This map, when completed, should be placed in governmental offices and other suitable public places so that the public may know.
Third, a mining monitoring agency should be established whose mandate is to monitor and supervise every mining activity in the region. The agency should be empowered to have access to every mining and exploration activity. It should monitor, approve or reject, and get firsthand information about every activity. Periodic publications regarding their findings and progress should be shared with the public. As a primary stakeholder, SRS government has a big responsibility regarding this.
Finally, the SRS government must have a decisive role and the final say in extracting and exploiting our hydrocarbon deposits. The SRS government must negotiate and bargain with both the central government and the oil companies. Our government should watch out any unjust and deceptive agreements. The government must ensure that we get the maximum fair benefit from our resources. We shouldn’t stand idly as we did before.
This is the second of a five part series on the Ogaden basin. Click here to read the previous article.