Once again, the Somaliland247 blog has provided a very interesting analysis of a situation concerning its neighbor Puntland . I previously reported on the holding of a plane originally seeking to land in Puntland to deliver forbidden military supplies in violation of the arms embargo over all of the former Somalia (as perhaps it would be best to say) , but there is a bit more information that is notable in this particular situation.
At least as reports have it now, Puntland is in a war to expand its territory to the south in order to take over another tribe’s land, which happens to sit on top of some lucrative tin mines, which has led to armed conflict between the two regimes–Sheikh Aton and Puntland. Given the importance of natural resources to conflicts around the world, particularly in Africa, as well as the importance of natural resources (like oil) to the future development of Somalia or any of its successor states (like Somaliland), I sought to discover if tin was a source of conflict anywhere else in the world.
As it happens, Somalia is not the only nation where tin mining has led to open civil war in recent years, as rioting in Bolivia caused the death of more than a dozen miners in 2006 over access to the Hunanni mines there . The author of that particular report seems to blame neoliberal free trade policies for the pitting of poor miners against each other for access to low-wage mining jobs (mining is a terrible business–I come from coal mining country in Western Pennsylvania, and my family owns a farm with an abandoned coal mine on it). Nonetheless, I do not believe that Western nations or companies can take all of the blame for such conflict around the world (though, to the extent that mining companies unfairly exploit the poor, they deserve condemnation).
In Bolivia, the war appeared to be between those workers hired by the mining company and those who belonged to various cooperative groups fighting over turf. In other words, there was a social class angle to the conflict, depending on the extent of which the cooperative miners had been “socialized” by becoming more socialist in approach as opposed to the “lassiez faire” miners hired by the mining company. In Puntland, however, the problem appears to be more tribal in nature than class-based. Puntland is already one of the stronger successor states to Somalia in terms of its military, but the accusations labeled that it wishes to use anti-piracy efforts as a cover to increase its military to take over mining concessions from neighboring areas is a serious one.
Whatever the truth of the matter (and from this remote point it is difficult to tell) it appears as if Puntland’s actions seek to inflame war with its neighboring areas in Central Somalia even as its piracy efforts place it in conflict with Somalia to the west. A two-front war is difficult for any regime to manage, and so the particular struggle for control of natural resources and the wealth their control brings to regimes (if not the people of the area who have to work in the mines themselves) that is taking place in Somalia is noteworthy at least to see what Puntland seeks to get out of mineral rights. It is interesting to see if Puntland seeks to get out of the tin rights the same sort of international leverage that Somaliland is looking for with regards to its oil wealth . We shall see.
In the course of uncovering world conflicts about tin, I found that there was a curious historical record of another war, the Chaco War of Bolivia and Paraguay, where the Harvard Crimson newspaper blamed American and British tin interests for inflaming war tensions between the two landlocked South American nations over some of the most economically useless (to date) territory on the face of the earth (and that’s saying something), in a war in which many thousands of people lost their lives in a fight over trackless wasteland and national honor . For the historical record, Bolivia lost the war and Paraguay “won” an expanse of territory in which only a small portion of its population lives because the land does not support a great deal of residents due to scarce surface water and pretty harsh conditions. This is the type of war that Puntland is fighting with its neighboring regime over mines. Whether it will be more useful or as useless as the Chaco War remains to be seen.