Ethiopia targets gas production
By Elias Gebreselassie
Addis Ababa – Ethiopia is set to be a natural gas producer by 2018, pumping about 40 billion gallons annually, according to a Chinese company which has invested $5 billion in the project.
Huang Geming, vice president of China Poly Technology, told the state-run Ethiopian News Agency that a pipeline connecting the restive south eastern region of Ogaden to the port of Djibouti to export gas mainly to Europe, was already under construction.
Ethiopia, which depends entirely on imports through Sudan, South Sudan, and Djibouti port for its oil and gas needs, has been trying to exploit its oil and gas potential since 1924. A combination of security factors, political instability, and failure to find commercially viable reserves has hampered its efforts.
Ogaden, the remote region mostly populated by ethnic Somalis, has been the focus of decades of exploration and investment. In May 2012, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi declared that Ethiopia would pump gas out of the Ogaden in one year’s time. That didn’t happen.
For Ethiopia to safely exploit the gas reserves, the Ogaden, which borders war-torn Somalia, would first have to be pacified.
For years it has been wracked by banditry and a low level insurgency by rebel groups, especially the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which is striving for independence.
The Ethiopian government has banned the ONLF, branding it a terrorist group that is supported by its neighbour and arch enemy Eritrea and other unspecified powers.
Clashes among clans of its ethnic Somali inhabitants add to the Ogaden’s chronic instability.
In April 2007, the ONLF made international headlines when it attacked an oil field, killing nine Chinese workers and 65 Ethiopians. The workers were employed by the Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau, part of China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation.
Since then, the government in Addis Ababa has been able to take the sting out the insurgency through peace deals with breakaway factions of the ONLF and other lesser rebel groups, increased indigenisation of the security forces, infrastructure projects and a sustained security crackdown.
But the government has been criticised by international human rights groups for human rights abuses allegedly committed in the remote Ogaden, out of sight of the media and other observers. It denies the accusations.