Members of the opposition in Somalia warned this week that the country’s federal government is about to sign a secret petroleum exploration and drilling agreement with two foreign companies a month before its term in office expires, which would “pose a great danger” to the future of Somalia and its natural resources.
“On 5 June 2018, the Federal Government of Somalia and Federal Member states signed an agreement on sharing of natural resources in Baidoa, which states that any agreement on the drilling, exploration or search for oil in the country must be transparent, thoroughly debated, evaluated and agreed upon, and finally approved by the House of the People of the Federal Republic of Somalia, before it is signed,” the letter reads.
The Council of Presidential Candidates (CPC) in Somalia strongly opposes the secret deal between Coastline Exploration Inc and Liberty Petroleum Corporation on oil block deals, Warsame said on Twitter.
“Any agreement on the drilling for oil must be transparent, thoroughly debated, evaluated, agreed upon & approved by the Parliament, before it is signed,” he added.
The secret agreement would be signed just a month before the current government’s term in office ends, the opposition says in the letter, noting that this timing of an oil deal “creates strong suspicions.”
Somalia launched in August last year its first-ever offshore licensing round. Back then, the country expected to announce the winners of the oil auction in the first quarter of 2021, Ibrahim Ali Hussein, the chief executive of the Somali Petroleum Authority (SPA), told Reuters.
At the end of August this year, WorldRemit, one of the leading players in the world of international money transfers, put in a reported $500m bid for the takeover of the US app-based remittance company Sendwave. Not bad going for a company that was founded only 10 years ago by a Somali entrepreneur, Ismail Ahmed.
Remittances today account for more than FDI or overseas development aid. The global market is estimated at $700bn a year. Nigeria alone received an estimated $24bn in remittances in 2018, up from $4bn in 2013.
Many economists predicted that the economic meltdown caused by Covid-19 would lead to a massive drop in remittances and as a result, adversely impact emerging markets. The World Bank, at the start of the pandemic in April, estimated a 20% fall in remittances, anticipating catastrophic consequences.
However, these predictions were confounded when some countries, such as Kenya, posted growing year-on-year remittance numbers as at August. Ahmed is not surprised by this. He says he couldn’t fathom the World Bank estimates as experience had shown him that remittances were generally countercyclical.
The rise in remittances, for example in countries like Kenya, has been attributed to a number of factors. One is that many of the people sending money back home are actually those ‘essential workers’ who have kept health facilities going, and provided the services that have kept the economies of the West afloat.
In addition, government stimuli had cushioned the economic blow and the different economic mitigation schemes have meant that in some countries, such as the US, disposable income at the end of the month has at times actually been higher than what many workers were earning before the pandemic.
Ahmed says that the figures for WorldRemit, as at October, were quite strong for the year. “The only region where there was a noticeable fall are the Gulf countries, especially with Indian workers sending money back home.”
Recalling his life story, he says it seems that he was destined to work in money transfer services. He was born and raised in what is now Somaliland and he reflects that his family often received monies from a relative working in the Gulf.
With an excellent head for figures, he was awarded a World Bank scholarship to study economics at the University of London in the UK. But before he could take up the offer, the Somali Civil War intervened.
In the chaos that followed, he managed to escape and thanks to the money sent to him by his brother working in Saudi Arabia, he was able to purchase an air ticket out of Djibouti to the UK.
Expertise in the world of remittances
Fascinated by the world of remittances, he wrote a research paper on the subject at Sussex University; and whilst at the London Business School, as part of a case study project, he put together a model of a remittance business. This was to become the blueprint for what is today WorldRemit.
Before setting up WorldRemit, Ismail worked at the UN to advise on the system of remittances after 9/11.
While working on a UN Development Programme for Somalia, out of Nairobi, he noticed fraud involving senior colleagues. He blew the whistle and, for this, was dismissed.
He fought his corner, alleging unfair dismissal. He won his case and substantial compensation. This was the seed money he used to launch WorldRemit together with Catherine Wines, who also had extensive experience in money transfers, having herself restructured a remittance business that was subsequently sold to Travelex.
He says the scope of their ambition right from the get-go was big – hence the name of the company. As a student, he had experienced the frustrations and high charges involved in sending money back home. Working at the UN, he had realised that the process could be expensive as well as far from frictionless.
Right from the outset, he says, he knew that using rapidly improving IT technology was going to be the ace in their pack. Properly deployed, it could challenge the two giants in the field – Western Union and Moneygram.
He sees WorldRemit as an aspect of the increasingly important fintech sphere. The runaway success of M-Pesa and mobile money in Kenya underscored to him, in the early 2000s, the enormous potential of digital.
However, breaking into the market wasn’t plain sailing. The dominant players had, in many cases, struck exclusivity deals with banks or agents and seemed unassailable.
Given the very tight space left in the market, WorldRemit started with a single agent in both Uganda and Kenya. But the company still managed to get considerable business. This proved to them that their business was viable and also that the market was growing apace.
It was not long before WorldRemit became a substantial global player. Today the company operates in over 6,500 money transfer corridors worldwide and sends money from 50 countries to more than 150 nations.
The acquisition of Sendwave will make it a company that generates over $200m in revenue and manages more than $7.5bn of remittance flows.
The deal will strengthen the company’s position in the US, the world’s biggest source of outward remittances. “You can’t be big in money transfers if you’re not big in the US,” says Ahmed.
Industry more streamlined
The remittance industry has definitely benefited from having more players in the market: costs have been drastically reduced and the spread on exchange rates has also fallen considerably. However, some analysts warn that it is becoming an increasingly difficult area in which to make money as competition is eroding margins and the marketing costs to acquire new customers are greater than the gains.
Ahmed doesn’t agree; he counters that the industry will not only grow but will evolve. One factor behind the resilience of remittances has been the digitisation of payments. “Somaliland is pretty much a cashless society today. In Kenya, 90% of remittances are non-cash based, with the majority going to mobile money. In Nigeria 90% of international money transfers will end up in a bank account. So even during lockdowns, remittance flows still take place.”
He believes that the digitisation of remittances will also enable countries and analysts to better understand and make use of data that is now more readily available.
He also anticipates that the infrastructure backbone of remittances, which is ultimately about matching and settling trades, can help play a greater role in business transactions such as purchasing machinery or goods from abroad, as well as in intra-African trade, where too often buyers need to access dollars or euros to settle a payment within Africa.
Remittances have often been overlooked as a development tool, he says, but today they are a key indicator from a macro-economic perspective. Nonetheless they have been criticised for being ‘unproductive’ capital in that they are used in the ‘receiving’ country to make basic purchases.
Ahmed refutes this and says that as well as covering expenses such as school fees, food or medical bills, a big chunk of remittance payments goes to starting new businesses, investing in land and property.
Somalia on Tuesday morning announced it is cutting diplomatic ties with Kenya, in the latest escalation of a spat between the two, and following the invitation of Somaliland leader Muse Bihi to Nairobi.
Somalia cuts diplomatic ties with Kenya over Somaliland
Osman Dubbe, the Somali Minister for Information declared the news on national TV a few minutes to 2am in the morning, breaking tradition of countries making such pronouncements during the day.
Dubbe said Kenya had “constantly interfered” with Somalia’s internal affairs and that Nairobi was violating Somalia’s sovereignty.
He said Kenyan diplomats in Mogadishu will have seven days to leave the country. But this came just a week after Mogadishu actually expelled the Kenyan ambassador to Somalia, Lucas Tumbo, and recalled theirs to Nairobi, Mohamud Ahmed Tarzan, following a similar complaint of interference.
Somalia had also submitted a complaint to regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), to include the spat with Kenya during the upcoming virtual summit on Dec 20 on Tigray.
Kenya though, became the second country in a year after Guinea, with which Somalia has cut ties over the Somaliland issue.
Bilateral talks between Kenyan and Somaliland delegations
Kenya hosts Bihi
But as Mogadishu moved in the night, Nairobi was hosting Bihi for bilateral talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta. Both sides on Monday said they had agreed on a number of issues and would continue discussions on Tuesday on business and security cooperation.
With the cutting of diplomatic ties, it means the Kenyan embassy in Mogadishu and Somalia’s mission in Nairobi will be shut and their officials sent back home. But both countries, based on Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, will remain obligated to offer visa and other travel and immigration services to nationals of each other.Advertisement
In fact, each country will remain obligated to protect premises owned by either side on their host territories.
However, despite having legal obligations to protect citizens of each other, the actual protection of each other’s nationals may be granted to a third acceptable state.
It was unclear by Tuesday morning what will happen to military cooperation between Somalia and Kenya which has sent troops to the country under the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom). Legally, it is Amisom to make a decision about troop movements, but in consultation with the UN and troop contributing countries.
About 350,000 Somali refugees also live in Kenya, most of them in camps in Dadaab and Kakuma. Kenya will have to continue protecting them, under the international humanitarian law.
What may be exposed, however, are the properties owned by Somalia businesses and politicians in Nairobi.
Officials in the Kenyan capital said on Tuesday morning they had not yet received any formal communication from Mogadishu on the severing of ties.
Somalia had accused Somaliland of undermining its sovereignty after a delegation led by President Muse Bihi was hosted by President Uhuru Kenyatta at Nairobi’s Statehouse
• But Somaliland through its Foreign Affairs responded by saying such an irrelevant statement Somalia shows nothing but only failure and irresponsibility.
KENYA MAINTAINED ITS RECOGNITION OF SOMALILAND AS NEWEST COUNTRY IN AFRICA
(Afrika-times.com- Somalia and Somaliland on Monday engaged in a war of words on Twitter following the latter’s delegation visit to Nairobi.
Somalia had accused Somaliland of undermining its sovereignty after a delegation led by President Muse Bihi was hosted by President Uhuru Kenyatta at Nairobi’s Statehouse.
Through its Foreign Affairs, Somalia said Bihi’s visit must be treated with all contempt it deserved.
The ministry later deleted the tweet.
“Somaliland is the federal Member State of Somalia. It, therefore, has no legitimacy to directly deal with Kenya especially now that we have severed our diplomatic ties,” part of the tweet read.
It also read, “Muse Bihi’s visit to Nairobi undermines the sovereignty of Somalia and must be treated with the contempt it deserves”.
But Somaliland through its Foreign Affairs responded by saying such an irrelevant statement Somalia shows nothing but only failure and irresponsibility.
Somaliland said as an independent country it has a right to make a decision to strengthen its mutual relationship with Kenya which is also an independent country.
“The irrelevant statement from the failed administration of Somalia shows nothing but only failure and irresponsibility. The Republic of Somaliland and The Republic of Kenya are two independent countries which has (sic) the rightful decision to strengthen their mutual relationship, ” the tweet read.
President Uhuru Kenyatta hosted bilateral talks between Kenya and Somaliland delegation led by President Musa Bihi Abdi at State House on Monday.
President Abdi arrived in the country on Sunday for a three-day official visit.
During the meeting, the two leaders initiated discussions on a number of subjects of mutual interest between Kenya and Somaliland.
The two delegations are set to meet again on Tuesday to finalise the talks.
Kenya has no diplomatic presence in Somaliland but takes cognizance of the political and economic stability of the region.
The country is keen to enhance and broaden trade in goods and services, as well as an investment as the cornerstone for long-term development cooperation with the region.
There has been a looming diplomatic spat between Nairobi and Mogadishu after Farmnajo expelled Kenya’s ambassador to Mogadishu Ambassador Lucas Tumbo.
Mogadishu cited what it termed as the Kenyan government’s interference in its internal and political affairs.
“The federal government f Somalia expresses it regret in the government of Kenya’s overt and blatant interferences in the internal and political affairs of Somalia which has the potential to be a hindrance to stability,” a statement from Somalia’s foreign ministry said.
But Kenya in its response dismissed the claims terming them unsubstantiated allegations.
Nairobi said it had not received any Note Verbale or any other official communication from Mogadishu requesting Kenya’s ambassador to leave for Nairobi for consultations.
“However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ attention has been drawn to a press statement purportedly released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Somalia,” a statement from the ministry said.
“This action is reportedly based on unsubstantiated allegations, namely, “continued interference in the internal affairs of Somalia”. The Government of Kenya respects and upholds the cardinal international principles of self-determination, sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity of all countries, and in particular those in Africa,” Nairobi said.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is hosting his Somaliland counterpart Muse Bihi Abdi amidst worsening relations with Somalia.
KENYA 🇰🇪 MAINTAINED ITS RECOGNITION OF SOMALILAND AS NEWEST COUNTRY IN AFRICA
The visit by the leader of the self-declared country seeks to give Kenya a platform through which Nairobi can have presence in Hargeisa, as it has no diplomatic presence in Somaliland
President Abdi jetted into the country for a three-day state visit yesterday and was received. Official invitation from uhuru kenyatta
This visit comes after Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmaajo, imposed restrictions on Kenyans hoping to travel to the country. At the same time, there has been a maritime dispute that saw Somalia file a case against Kenta at the International Court of Justice in 2014.
Mogadishu has accused Nairobi of meddling in its upcoming elections by allegedly putting pressure on the leader of Jubaland region, Ahmed Mohamed Islaam Madobe, to pull out of poll agreement brokered two months ago.
Mogadishu expelled Kenya’s diplomat to Somalia Maj Gen (rtd) Lucas Tambo and recalled its ambassador to Kenya, Mohamud Ahmed Nur ‘Tarzan’, over claims of Nairobi’s continuous interference in its internal affairs.
“President Kenyatta, on Monday, is scheduled to host President of Somaliland for talks on mutual interests and discuss diaspora issues as they seek to deepen trade ties,” reads a press release by the Foreign Affairs ministry.
Uhuru, according to the ministry’s brief, will be seeking stronger relations between the two countries to bolster security, economic and social
“Somaliland is an important partner in the Horn of Africa region in the fight against terrorism and particularly Al-Shabaab,” the statement read.
“ takes cognizance of the political and economic stability of the region and is keen to enhance and broaden trade in goods and services, as well as investment as the cornerstone for long-term development cooperation with the region.”
The ministry also disclosed that Uhuru would be seeking intensified cooperation in banking and financial sector to accelerate investment opportunities for both parties. Kenya Airways flights connecting Nairobi and Hargeisa to enhance trade and movement is carefully being explored, the statement said.
Other issues on the table include information sharing on security, particularly in countering terrorism in the Horn of Africa. “Kenya and Somaliland will work together to actualise these aspirations,” the statement read.
This is the first official visit to Nairobi by President Abdi since he took over Somaliland in 2017, and the second by a Somaliland leader following a similar one by President Kahin Riyale Kahin in 2009.
Such differences are not new to Kenya. Tanzania cancelled landing rights for three Kenyan airlines — Kenya Airways, Fly540 and Safarilink Aviation — after Kenya insisted Tanzanians arriving in the country had to be quarantined for 14 days.
The actions by the two countries have recently stalled business ventures for Kenyans over ‘bad’ policies by Nairobi.
While receiving President Abdi together with his delegation, which includes uhuru kenyatta and the members of the Cabinet, Munya said today’s talks between the two leaders would be of mutual interest.
Somaliland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said President Abdi left Hargeisa on Sunday and would meet Kenyan officials for bilateral talks.
Somalia has had issues with Kenya over miraa (khat) export. The country has since banned Kenyan miraa from its market.
The matter resurfaced last week after a delegation of farmers’ representatives travelled to seek audience with Somalia officials. However, they were met with a list of demands, including a tax charge of $4 per kilo.
The farmers were also told to report to the Kenyan authorities that they would only be allowed to sell miraa in Somalia if flights from Mogadishu are not forced to stop in Wajir for security checks.
Somalia officials say Kenya should treat their country as an equal partner.
In 2016, Mr Munya, then Meru Governor, caused a diplomatic storm after he ‘offered recognition’ of Somaliland if they were assured a steady miraa market.
A cheetah cub receives care from representatives of Somaliland’s Ministry of Environment and Rural Development, in a village near Erigavo, Sanaag, in August 2020. According to reports, the cubs were being held by local farmers who surrendered them to the authorities, as the result of conflict with the mother cheetah near their livestock. (Photo: Twitter / Ministry of Environment and Rural Development)
A recent spate of cheetahs being seized in Somaliland has shown that the illicit demand for these animals remains strong. Cheetahs are highly prized as exotic pets in the Gulf states, and in supplying this market, traffickers have heavily impacted local cheetah populations in Africa, a situation compounded by the fact that many animals die en route.https://spkt.io/a/1132481?isAmp=1&Player=MinimalPlayer#amp=1
In late July, two cheetah cubs were rescued from a 25-day ordeal at the hands of wildlife traffickers by the Awdal region police in Borama, a city in Somaliland not far from the Ethiopian border. Members of the local community helped look after the dehydrated and underweight cubs until the rescue team arrived. The cubs were then given care by Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) staff before being transported to a CCF safe house.
These cubs were part of a series of recent seizures of cheetahs in Somaliland. Through July and August, 20 cheetah cubs were rescued over five missions jointly conducted by the ministry of environment and rural development, the Selel regional administration and the Somaliland police, with support from the CCF and Torrid Analytics.
On 14 September, two cheetah cubs were seized in the Sool region in the south-east: the youngest was only two weeks old. In total, 25 cubs have been reported as seized or rescued in Somaliland so far this year.
Cheetah trafficking in Somaliland is not a new issue. Since 2010, when reporting became more consistent, there have been 193 rescued or surrendered cheetahs. Nearly a third of these occurred after the country ratified its Forestry and Wildlife Conservation Law in August 2018, which has reportedly led to increased awareness and better coordination between wildlife officials, police and the army.
Many of the cheetahs seized in Somaliland are believed to originate in Ethiopia, which shares an 800km border with the self-declared state. At least 25% of seized cheetahs in Somaliland have been found at or near the Ethiopian border – the two cubs intercepted near Borama in August, for example, were less than 15km from the border.
As known cheetah populations in Ethiopia total no more than 300 adolescent and adult specimens, it is clear that the trafficking of cubs is taking a significant toll on cheetah populations. Ethiopia and South Sudan, along with Somalia/Somaliland where cheetah populations are unknown, are also the last remaining stronghold of the North East African cheetah subspecies, Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii.
Cheetah cubs are mostly taken from the wild when the mother hides them to go hunting, either opportunistically by nomadic herders or by poachers. A cub can sell for between $200 and $300 in Somaliland, although prices vary greatly: an unhealthy cub can be bought for as little as $80, while a healthy, older cub can cost up to $1,000. The same cheetah can be sold for up to $15,000 in the Gulf states.
Mortality is high, as most cubs are removed from the wild at only two to eight weeks from birth and are subjected to maltreatment and poor nutrition in the hands of poachers and dealers, compounded with the rigours of the trip across the Gulf of Aden. While difficult to estimate, it is thought that more than 60% of cheetah cubs die before they reach the market to be sold.
Somaliland is vulnerable as a conduit for the illegal wildlife trade not only due to its proximity to the Arabian Peninsula’s wealthy consumer markets for exotic wildlife, but also due to the country’s rampant poverty, weak legal frameworks and a lack of environmental awareness.
Corruption also drives the cheetah trade. There are instances of illegally obtained cheetah cubs being sold back to smugglers by corrupt officials after a confiscation has been reported. That being said, Somaliland’s cheetah trade has been more extensively researched than other countries and regions of Somalia. Its relative importance as the main cheetah trafficking route into the Middle East might be in part connected to underreporting from other countries.
Across the Gulf of Aden
From Somaliland, cheetahs are transported by boat – hidden in hampers, crates or cardboard boxes – from the northern coastline across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen at an estimated rate of 300 cubs per year. The 140 nautical miles between the ports of Berbera in Somaliland and Aden in Yemen can be covered in just over seven hours at a dhow’s average speed of 20 knots.
Once in Yemen, cheetahs are reportedly transported by boat or road across the Saudi border to animal markets such as Al-Jazan or Al-Khouba, or delivered to Saudi traders, who will then offer them throughout the Gulf states to known buyers on ecommerce and social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, or, more recently, through private chat groups.
Research carried out by CCF researchers found that at least 2,000 cheetahs had been advertised online between 2010 and 2019. Most were found on Instagram, with sellers offering cheetahs in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait.
“It is enough to mention that they are ‘cats’ on the box and to pay certain people I know. It is easy for me because I work there and I know who will take the money. I give them between KWD500 and KWD1000 ($1,600–$3,200 to allow illegal animals (through the country).”
There have also been isolated reports of cheetahs arriving in Oman from Yemen, as well as being transported from Oman into the UAE via the Hatta border crossing.
An illegal status symbol
Cheetahs have long been popular household pets or hunting companions in the Gulf states, where they are viewed as status symbols. This popularity has been boosted in recent years by wealthy or famous individuals posing with their exotic pets on social media.
However, few cheetah owners know how to provide the proper care for these animals, with some social media posts advertising cheetahs that have been declawed – an extremely painful process for the animals.
Many pet cheetahs in the Gulf states do not live beyond the first year, and few live longer than five years, according to information collected by CCF.
Trade in wild cheetahs for commercial purposes is illegal in all the Gulf states, either through the states being party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) or through domestic legislation.
In December 2016, the UAE enacted a law banning the private possession of exotic and dangerous pets, although only one seizure (of four cheetahs) has been made since 2015, suggesting that the ban is seldom enforced.
Under CITES regulations, however, captive-bred cheetahs can be traded commercially by registered facilities. The CITES trade database reports that 16 “captive-bred” cheetahs were exported into Armenia from Bahrain and the UAE between 2009 and 2015.
However, the probability that cheetahs in the Gulf (both those kept as pets and those exported) are truly bred in captivity or traded in compliance with national laws or CITES regulations is low.
First, only two such registered breeding facilities exist worldwide – both are in South Africa.
Second, cheetahs do not breed well in captivity. Based on information from the International Cheetah Studbook, a voluntary register of captive cheetahs worldwide, the first report of captive-bred cheetahs in the Gulf states was in 1994. Since then, six facilities have reported a total of 304 cheetah births in captivity, with a 31% mortality rate for cubs under six months.
It is therefore more likely that purportedly “captive-bred” cheetahs in the Gulf come from elsewhere, as suggested by the “captive-bred” cheetahs exported from Bahrain to Armenia. There are no known cheetah breeding facilities in Bahrain, suggesting that the cheetahs’ real origins were masked.
A contentious issue
The issue of the illegal cheetah trade has been on the CITES agenda since 2013, when it commissioned a study that led to decisions and recommendations aimed at reducing demand and encouraging international collaboration. However, the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP), held in August 2019, voted to delete these decisions based on a report from the standing committee to the secretariat.
The report concluded that the illegal cheetah trade was limited, based on official seizure reports from nine countries that cited 32 specimens (13 live, 19 parts or products) between 2015 and mid-2018. Based on this, the CoP agreed that matters related to the illegal cheetah trade could be addressed by a Big Cat Task Force, jointly run by CITES and the Convention for Migratory Species, which is currently in the process of being implemented.
However, Kenya and Ethiopia – two cheetah-range countries – argued that the numbers reported by CITES “underestimate the full extent of the trade, since they only include confiscated animals appearing in official records and omit data from many countries, including key primary source countries for trafficked cheetah”. They cited information showing 393 cheetah specimens (274 live animals and 119 parts), including the 32 seized specimens reported to CITES, during the same period.
The countries’ joint statement – submitted to the CITES CoP – went on to add: “Given the perilous state of [East African] cheetah populations that are the source of illegal trade, any ongoing trade in wild cheetah is alarming.”
The recent spate of seizures in Somaliland seems to confirm those fears. The illegal trade in wild cheetahs appears to be continuing apace, with potentially grave consequences for East African cheetah populations. DM
This article appears in the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime’s monthly East and Southern Africa Risk Bulletin. The Global Initiative is a network of more than 500 experts on organised crime drawn from law enforcement, academia, conservation, technology, media, the private sector and development agencies. It publishes research and analysis on emerging criminal threats and works to develop innovative strategies to counter organised crime globally. To receive monthly Risk Bulletin updates, please sign uphere.