We Need an Independent Commission for the Sahel Cement Dispute
OPINION | March 23, 2012
This week, the Dahabshil Group spearheaded the first investor’s meeting of the new Sahel Cement Factory, which took place at Mansoor Hotel in Hargeysa. Several people spoke at the gathering including the founder/owner of Dahabshil group, Mr. Mohamed Said Duale, whom I thought would use the gathering , to tell Somaliland public their side of the story regarding the dispute between Dahashil Group and the Sahel communities about new Sahel Cement Plant in Berbera. However, he failed to deliver a convincing argument why the Dahabshil Group got the permit to build the cement in the first place.
From the speech of the founder of Dahabshil group, Mr. Duale, I was able to glean the following relevant information:
· The builders of Sahel Cement Plant have no idea where the plant will be constructed. Instead, they are asking Silanyo administration to provide them the land, while disregarding or bypassing Berbera municipal authority, which has jurisdiction over the zoning laws in that area. The Dahabshil Group also do not have the mining permit required to exploit the raw materials—limestone quarry, the minerals (Silicon, Iron and Aluminum), and Gypsum that are essential for making the cement. Again, the Dahabshil group is asking the current Somaliland administration for a mining permit, without the consent of Sahel communities, since the mining could affect the environment, and ground water systems in Sahel region.
Furthermore, I was not convinced that Dahabshil Group have succeeded presenting a detailed plan of the project such as : the cost of the plant, its capacity, when the construction of the plant would start? How long it will take to complete the plant? How much of his own equity, he is willing to invest for the plant? What is the environmental impact of the new plant, after it is commissioned? Does the Dahabshil Group have a contingency plan in case of environmental disasters?
It is obvious; that Dahabshil group got a permit that was issued on a process that was not transparent. Instead, the Dahabshil group following proper vetting for the permit; the Group used their access to key cabinet ministers of Silanyo administration, who used to be former employees of Dahabshil Group.
As we know, Dahabshil Group also contributed financially during Silanyo’s bid for the presidency, and they are free to support any candidates they wish; however, we know that in politics nobody does something for nothing. It seems quid pro quo, the way the Dahabshil group got the permit.
Dahabshil group arrogantly thought all they need was a permit issued through presidential decree to launch a fundraising for their dream project. Nonetheless, they forget that we live in a fledgling democratic nation—where all-important issues like building a cement plant from scratch— which could affect the environment, and health of thousands of our own citizens, would be debated openly. Because of desperation, Dahabshil waged a misinformation campaign, and demagoguery through the local TV’s, especially Horn Cable TV, to discredit Sahel communities.
The current dispute between Dahabshil Group and the Sahel communities is not about Sahel communities, who are against the investment of a successful Somalilander businessman, for their own region, as some people might suggesting it.
No doubt, building new cement or rehabilitating the old cement factory would create local jobs, boost the economy, increase government revenue, and would help rebuilding of our infrastructure.
Nevertheless, we know that the nature of the cement industry is such that it can cause significant environmental damage through emission. For example, it is a highly energy intensive contributing 6-8% of the total manmade CO2 emission.
I believe Dahabshil group did not do their homework on what it is required to build a cement plant from scratch; and their recent presentation was short on detail. However, if the Dahabshil Group/Sahel Cement Factory come out a more detailed plan— which has feasibility studies, the environmental impact assessment– and has grass roots local support; then the government should entertain them applying a new permit.
Although Silanyo administration already awarded a permit for the Dahabshil group;however, the dispute between of the two groups is back on our President’s desk for further review. But to be fair for all the concerned parties, I think it is unethical for the president or some of his cabinet ministers, who used to be former employees of Dahabshil Group, to make decision on this matter. Instead, our leader should have to appoint an independent commission compromised around 9-11 individuals of experts on energy, mining, financing, investment, and environment, as well as representative from Sahel communities.
The Commission main objective is to draft policies and recommendations for the president, regarding the most equitable way to exploit Somaliland’s abundant natural resource—cement. The commission would explore all options including whether to set up a government owned entity—Somaliland Cement Corporation, its main mission is the development, industrialization, and the marketing of our cement industry. In order for this entity to get the financing, and the technology needed to build new cement plant or to rehabilitate the old cement if it is feasible; the new entity would seek a joint venture from local or international investors.
The independent commission would mediate the dispute between the two competing groups—-the Dahabshil Group, who recently got a permit to build a cement plant, and the Berbera Cement Group, who already had existing permit to rehabilitate the old cement factory, which is structurally in a great shape. The commission would investigate why Silanyo administration issued a permit for Dahabshil group, without first giving a chance Berbera Cement Group to meet their obligation. Finally, the commission would also address whether or not the commercial hub of Somaliland—Berbera, could accommodate two cement plants.
Again, I would to underline that any future cement production in Somaliland would be used for local consumption, because of the high cost transporting of Cement would prohibit profitable distribution over long distance. In addition, export to Ethiopia or south Somalia, would require rail system mode of transportation.
In sum, Somaliland succeeded on slow but efficient process in which our government, communities, and business people have settled their own disputes through consultation and consensus building. It worked for Somaliland for almost two decades.
I strongly believe we are capable as a nation for solving this dispute as well. All we need is a strong leadership. Hopefully, our president would not use a presidential decree in order to render a judgment of this dispute in favor for Dahabshil Group. Because the legitimate health and environmental concerns of Sahel communities is more important than the greed and the profit of a businessman—-who thinks that he is almost running the country. *Allah bless Somaliland*“Long live Somaliland”
Ali MohamedCo-founder, Growth and Development Club of Somaliland
Lewis Center, Ohio email@example.com
Views expressed in the opinion articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Somalilandpress editorial.