Oil and gas companies exploring the Ogaden Basin employ thousands of people. Although the operations are carried out in SRS, the companies do not employ the local labor force. Instead, they bring employees from outside the region despite the high unemployment rate of the local people.
The exclusion is not only limited to the local labor. The companies hire vehicles and providers of other services as well. In a blatant disregard to the rights of the locals, the companies hire vehicles beyond the borders of SRS. While the labor, vehicles, and other services languish in the region, beneficiaries are recruited from the Ethiopian highlands and beyond.
A friend of mine once worked with an exploration company. It was 2016 and the operation was carried out in Wardheer, Doollo. He told me that out of 250 workers, only 50 (20%) were Somalis. The rest were brought from the highlands. The same applied to all the vehicles used by the company, says my friend. None was hired from the locals. All came from outside SRS.
According to Bashir Farah, a PhD candidate at Maastricht University, Netherlands, out of 4500 employees working in Calub and Hilala gas fields, a meager 50 (just 1%) are Somalis. This seems to be a systematic and planned robbery of the rights of the indigenes.
These acts of marginalization and exclusion are not limited to oil and gas companies. It is also widespread in all federal institutions operating in SRS including the banks, electricity company, and the telecom company.
Furthermore, other federal development projects in the region, if any, are excluded from Somalis. In road construction projects, for example, their rarity aside, very few Somalis are employed.
Obviously, this is part of the historical, deliberate exploitation and marginalization of the Somali people. Even employment benefits, let alone undertaking big development projects in the region, are given to strangers. The fate of Somalis is displacement, killings, and all sorts of atrocities. Meanwhile their jobs and resources are stolen.
The successive administrations in SRS watched this happening under their nose. They never objected or challenged this injustice. The least that can be said about them is that they were indifferent to the matter if not complicit. A government that cannot protect the interests of its people is a failed one. And surely all the past administrations that ruled this region were utter failures. If the nascent incumbent admin is different and how it fares in this issue is something to be seen in the near future.
So, what should be done?
If the new admin of SRS wants to leave a positive legacy for its citizens, it has no option but to make workable and real plans that can help the region recover from the cruel injustices and atrocities it had gone through. One of the most pressing issues is the unemployment. It is unacceptable that while the vast majority of the SRS’s labor force are jobless, the little employment opportunities that becomes available in the region are given to outsiders. To address this, the regional admin should do two things:
For one, it should challenge and press the oil companies to give the locals the first priority in employment. Any activities and operations taking place in SRS must first benefit the locals for they are the rightful owners and stakeholders.
The other thing is the introduction of a legislation prioritizing the local people in employment opportunities. Every project, whether public or private, federal or regional that is undertaken in SRS must give the first priority to the local people. Parasitic outsider workers shouldn’t have a place while the rightful indigenes are broke and unemployed.
In conclusion, SRS needs to break the status quo of exploitation, marginalization, and negligence that denied the region any chance of development or improvement in people’s lives for decades. The regional admin should be a real development agent. This includes creating and reserving employment opportunities for the local citizens.
This is the fourth part of this series on oil and gas in Ogaden Basin. The previous pieces can be accessed below: