A few days into the New Year, armed Somali intelligence officials were seen escorting guests into three bullet-proof cars at Mogadishu's Aden Adde International airport. An unusual quiet stretched through the capital's normally busy main streets as the convoy snaked through cordoned-off roads towards Somalia's presidential palace.
Local and international media reported that two foreign companies were arriving in Mogadishu to sign a 'secret' historic oil deal with the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), the first agreement of this kind since civil war erupted in the country in 1991. Opposition politicians wrote a letter to the president that warned against the 'dangerous agreement' which they said raised concerns over transparency just a month ahead of the country's first 'one person, one vote' election since 1969.
The deal was all but signed. A huge banner hung ceremoniously behind a table in a room lined with chairs, entitled 'Signing Of Production Sharing Agreement,' referring to the crucial legislation that would start the resource sharing process. Just weeks before Joe Biden entered the White House, earning his place in part on a platform of dedicated climate action, a banner with the names of two U.S. companies — Liberty Petroleum and Coastline Exploration — and the date, January 4, were emblazoned next to a map of oil concessions.
And then — silence. Unconfirmed reports detailed a day-long postponement, followed by a last-minute cancellation. The two companies vanished from Mogadishu. Days later, a government minister confirmed no deal took place, but gave no further explanation about what happened.
After decades of political unrest, a relative emerging peace had emboldened the government to put its oil up for sale. This 'final frontier' for the world's fossil fuel industry — with Somalia's offshore oil estimated to be as much as 110 million barrels — was finally within reach, and these little-known exploration companies were the first to want a piece of the pie.